Sunday, March 21, 2010

Latin Female Artist Draws Criticism For Times Square Mural

Latin Female Artist Draws Criticism For Times Square Mural
Posted by Keysha Whitaker
March 15, 2010

I am sick and tired of black folks protesting stuff they have no business protesting.

The object of my latest disgust is a fledgling uprising against Puerto Rican/Cuban artist Sofia Maldonado, a 26-year old Brooklyn resident. Maldonado painted a 92-foot mural that is located at 215 West 42nd Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues in Manhattan.

Organized primarily by the “Urban Community Council” and a Meetup Group “New York City Black Professionals”, the protest claims that Maldonado’s mural negatively portrays Black and Latino women. Anthony Herbert, the founder of the Urban Community Council, a “social organization” that works to find funds for families of gun violence victims, held a press conference on March 11.

“The way the women are depicted, it is clearly very disrespectful. They are scantily clad and it is disrespectful to any upstanding women in the community. It’s a negative representation of what we in our community are trying to avoid,” said Herbert. “We have to shed a positive light. They’re [women in the mural] bent over, the implication that their breasts are coming out, it’s just ridiculous.”

Alberto Magnan is the owner of Magnan Metz Gallery and has been representing Maldonado since 2005. “Sofia has done many murals in Puerto Rico, New York, and Connecticut, some in neighborhoods that were very Puerto Rican, Latin or black,” said Magnan. “We’ve never had any reaction like this before; in fact people have always loved it.”

Magnan said Maldonado calls the women in her mural “Supergirls” and speculates that Herbert “may not know what Sofia is about.”

“My gallery works with Latinas and international artists, I have a respect for Latina artists and am trying to integrate the Latin market and American market to make sure they are well represented,” said Magnan. “Sofia is Puerto Rican, maybe it would be a problem if the artist was White American, but she is Puerto Rican, from San Juan and lives in Bed-Stuy.”

So what is Maldonado about? Her statement about the mural says it “illustrates strong New York City women as a tribute to the Caribbean experience in America. Inspired by my heritage, it illustrates a female aesthetic that is not usually represented in media or fashion advertising in Times Square. It recognizes the beauty of underground cultures such as reggaeton, hip-hop and dancehall and incorporates trends such as nail art and Latina fashion.”

The Times Square Alliance is a business improvement district that partners with respected arts organizations in New York City. Maldonado was recommended by the Cuban Artists Fund. Once an artist is recommended to the Alliance, an Art Review Committee, comprised of art experts in the city, evaluates the work, its artistic quality and whether it meets the audience of Times Square. Then the Alliance works with the artist to develop the project. The mural debuted on March 2 and will run through April 30. Maldonado is the first woman to get mural space in Times Square, something we should be celebrating.

Manager of Public Art and Design at The Times Square Alliance, Glenn Weiss said a woman named “Lady C” sent him a letter asking for the mural to be taken down, then another letter calling for his resignation. Herbert said that he learned of the mural through the same outraged “Lady C.” Note to self: do not use moniker when sending formal protest letter.

“If she doesn’t talk to us, she denies us as an organization, to expand our learning experience, which I think is what she wants,” said Weiss. “I would love to speak to her.”

Well, that made one of us. But through an anonymous source, I did get the original email sent out by Lady C: “This art is an affront to all the hardworking Black and Latino women who struggle to maintain their dignity in a world that feels that there is no repercussions for disrespecting us. This mural is unacceptable. Black and Latino women should not be treated this way and depicted in such a negative light. Not one business or professional woman is represented in the mural for balance.”

I find it interesting that no one is protesting the skateboarder chick in the mural. Where are the people who think that it’s inappropriate for a woman to wear pants and ride a skateboard?

Now, let’s talk about this art, or as Herbert called it, “stupidity”. As a proponent of free speech, and a woman of color (though the colored powers that be might try to revoke my black card after this piece), I am in total support of Maldonado.

I checked out some of Sofia Maldonado’s artwork and the women are consistent with the style of women she draws: round, distorted with long exaggerated limbs (often very long fingers and nails; she places an emphasis on the popularity of nail art). In some ways, her imagery reminds me of aspects of renowned African-American artist Kara Walker.

At first glance, yes, the figures in Maldonado’s mural make you look twice, maybe even scrunch up your nose in a WTF kind of way but so do the figures in any of Walker’s pieces. Herbert notes “the implication that their breasts are coming out.” Are we saying that the breasts are a body part that should be hidden? Or maybe, only hidden if the breasts are like some of the Supergirls – more floppy, round, and not perky? When is it permissible to be “scantily clad”? I could see if the Supergirls were wearing pasties on their nipples (oops, wait a minute – does that mean Janet or Lil’ Kim isn’t upstanding?) but the clothes are consistent with contemporary fashion given an artistic spin. In fact, I’ve got shirts that probably show just as much breast and I’ll be damned if you tell me that implies I’m a slut or a ho, even if I’m “bent over”, as the campaign’s first email suggested about the Supergirls.

Whether we want to admit it or not, the heart of this controversy lies in the aspects of urban culture that Maldonado’s mural highlights – big, gold, doorknocker earrings, belly button rings, nameplate finger-rings, stiletto boots, hi-top sneakers, short skirts, tight pants, long, colorful, fake fingernails, and dyed hair. (Pop quiz: Which came first: the nail salon or the fake nails with jewels glued on the tips?) Oh, and we can’t forget the Doobie – you know when the girls wear their hair wrapped around their head, held strategically in place by a few long bobby pins? In fact, after I wrote this piece, I went into Subway Restaurant and stood in line behind a young girl of color wearing high tops and a Doobie. On the 6 train at 125th, a woman of color got on with tight pants, long colored finger nails, and purple bangs. Ironically, one of the Supergirls has purple hair.

Is it possible that we suffer a secret shame induced by our short-skirt, fake-nail, breasts coming out with the belly fat hanging over, Doobie-rocking gals? By the hood chicks? The ghetto-style supergirls, proud to be themselves and will punch you in the eye if you suggest otherwise? I would say yes. And when that shame is magnified, by say 92 feet, our first reaction is to cry, “Take it down! I can’t stand to see.” Or maybe, “Take it down so the good white folks don’t see our shame.”

This is an opportunity to detach from our knee-jerk, inferiority complex reactions, and open a dialogue, for young and grown, about how we see ourselves and how we try to manage how other people see us. To protest Maldonado’s mural and call for its removal, claiming her Supergirls are a negative representation, is to protest and silence the existence of these Supergirls in our everyday urban culture. And that is a far greater injustice than a tank-top sporting, voluptuous, cartoon woman with long, colorful fake fingernails on display in Times Square.

See Also...

Controversy Brewing Over NYC Mural: Does It Demeans Black & Latina Women??? You Decide...

1 comment:

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