Edra Soto spoke with Esthetic Lens recently as part of our Creative Quarantine feature. She brought us into the loop about projects that were put on hold because of quarantine, projects that still moved ahead, the current iteration of her GRAFT piece, and using her Instagram account to advocate for social justice.
How are you holding up?
I’m trying my best to keep calm and motivated. I feel incredibly grateful, having loving family and friends. As an artist, most of my freelance work moved to an online format; the few of the projects that were in process are still moving forward.
I’ve been occupied working on three public art commissions simultaneously. The first, three outdoor pavilions with integrated gardens that I designed. My inspiration for this work comes from domestic space aesthetics, structural framings, and public plazas on a corporate campus in California. This project is titled Victoria, after my mother. Dan Sullivan (my husband) and his company, Navillus Woodworks, are managing this project. Dan and I are collaborating on a sculptural installation for a public plaza as part of our CTA public art commission. I’m also working with Tri-Star Arts in Knoxville, Tennessee on an exhibition project featuring a permanent outdoor sculpture scheduled for 2021.
One of my projects that had been postponed, that is now currently on view, is my installation, GRAFT at the Museum of Contemporary Photography. It is part of the exhibition Temporal: Puerto Rican Resistance. This exhibition explores Puerto Rico’s contemporary history as a United States territory. The exhibition traces the continued impact of three recent major events: the enactment of the US federal law titled the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) in 2016, the US response to Hurricane María’s landfall on the island in 2017, and the mass protests in July 2019 that forced the governor’s resignation.
Curator Dalina Aimee Perdomo Alvarez describes my work as follows:
“Interdisciplinary artist Edra Soto (Puerto Rican, b. 1971) showcases a new iteration of her ongoing project GRAFT, an intervention of vernacular architecture modeled after quiebrasoles (ornamental concrete blocks that provide shade from the sun) and rejas (wrought iron screens that serve as protective barriers on homes) used prominently on the island. The work becomes photographic with her insertion of viewfinders embedded in the structure that reveal images she has taken while in Puerto Rico, including immediately following the passage of María.”
The full essay of the exhibition can be found here
Temporal, is on view until September 19. Here’s a link to make a free reservation to visit the museum here
2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?
Certainly. In the wake of the horrific George Floyd incident and the resulting Black Lives Matters marches in Chicago, I decided to use my Instagram as a space to advocate for social justice. All I can think about is making visual art that reflects the way I feel about the years of unjustified crimes that have become paramount after Floyd’s death. I began posting portraits that I have made each week, Monday through Friday, to my Instagram. The portraits are of unarmed individuals that have been killed by police in America. To date, I have made over 100 portraits by using found photos, sourced from the internet. The portraits are one part of this online project. The other part of this project consists of representations of protestors that I photographed during the marches that I’ve attended this summer. I’ve also documented the murals that have been made at boarded-up sites. These murals are important, they deserve documentation and representation as they are a direct reaction to the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. On my Instagram account, I identify these portraits with the names of the victims, a brief news source that captures a glimpse of their story, and the hashtags #restinpower #blm #nojusticenopeace
We can’t change the past but we can continue to keep these victims in people’s minds and memorialize their lives.
3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?
Possibly the portrait project mentioned above…I had already thought about bringing back a newer iteration of a project I did back in 2004. This newer iteration is based on an archival project I created 15 years ago titled ‘A Year in Review’. That project consisted of documentation of the year 2004. The sources were photographs published in the Chicago Sun-Times. The Sun-Times photographs were traced to a piece of soft metal resembling a contemporary version of a Mexican Milagros. Traditional Milagros are small charms used as votive offerings or for healing purposes. The powerful significance attached to these soft pieces of pushed metal prompted me to respond in a contemporary context, enduring their sincere sentimental value.
4. Of the artists you follow, who is handling this particularly well?
I think it has been so hard for all of us because uncertainty is playing a huge role in our financial situations and mental health.
Artist Maria Gaspar, who is also a long-time friend and colleague, contributed to a tremendous project on July 4 weekend to expose detention camps hiding “in plain sight.” Each artist left sky-written messages over detention facilities, immigration courts, borders, and other sites of historic relevance across the country. In Plain Sight was organized by Cassils and Rafa Esperanza. Maria is also an exceptional professor and mother.
Puerto Rican born, Edra Soto is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, curator, and co-director of the outdoor project space THE FRANKLIN. Her upbringing in Puerto Rico and the relationships with communities she has formed in the United States inform her artistic practice. Her recent projects are motivated by civic and social actions; they prompt viewers to reconsider cross-cultural dynamics, the legacy of colonialism, and personal responsibility. She is invested in providing visual and educational models propelled by empathy and generosity.
Recent exhibits include Albright-Knox Northland, Buffalo, NY, and The Momentary at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Perez Art Museum, Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico.
Residencies include Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Beta-Local, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Headlands Center for the Arts, Project Row Houses, and Art Omi. Soto was the recipient of the Efroymson Contemporary Arts Fellowship, 2016; Illinois Arts Council Grant, 2019 and the award winner of the inaugural Foundwork Artist Prize, 2019.
In 2019, Soto was included in three exhibitions supported by the MacArthur Foundation’s International Connections Fund. Venues include the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, University of Chicago’s Smart Museum, and Close to There < > Perto de La at multiple venues in Salvador, BR.
Her latest commissioned public art piece titled Screenhouse is on view at Millennium Park from 2019 to 2021.
Soto holds a BFA degree from Escuela de Artes Plásticas de Puerto Rico. She is a lecturer for the Contemporary Practices Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, from which she received her MFA.
Edra Soto can be found online:
NewCity, Art 50: art.newcity.com/2020/09/03/art-50-2020-chicagos-artists-artists/6/
Temporal, at the Museum of Contemporary Photography: www.mocp.org/exhibitions/2020/4/temporal-puerto-rican-resistance.php
Artists Run Chicago, Hyde Park Arts Center: www.hydeparkart.org/exhibition-archive/artists-run-chicago-2-0/