Chicago’s very own Edra Soto is one to watch! The Puerto Rican-born artist came to Chicago for graduate school and has made our city… her home. We feel extremely fortunate that her large-scale, permeable sculptures grace some of the city’s most iconic outdoor arenas including the Chicago Botanical Gardens and Millennium Park.
Soto’s pieces often focus on starting conversations that surround (courtesy of the artist’s web site) “socioeconomic and cultural oppression, erasure of history, and loss of cultural knowledge.” More recently, her works have grown theoretically to raise concerns about “constructed social orders, diasporic identity, and the legacy of colonialism.”
Over the past decade, Soto has expanded on “Graft,” one of her most recognizable projects to date. The series is always created with iron screens (or rejas), elements that were common in Puerto Rico’s postwar architecture. The sculptures or reliefs produced mimic Puerto Rican home facades. In addition, rejas are architectural transplants from Africa.
The idea is that as Soto is transplanting this form, one that has a historical significance to other locales, in the United States, Soto is transplanting her identity as a Puerto Rican artist to the country she now calls home. Interestingly, though not surprising, Soto continues to be influenced by Puerto Rico. Now several decades removed from living there, she views… and in turn, documents… Puerto Rico with the perspective of an outsider.
The distance and worldwide exposure to the different locations gave Soto the ability to see Puerto Rico with the eyes of a tourist. For outside audiences however, the artist hopes that her work illuminates Puerto Rico’s diaspora, in addition to the grief and strength that comes along with those difficulties.
In addition to the idea of transportation, the “Graft” series also refers to skin transplants. The installations’ patterns that mimic those of home facades in Puerto Rico also reference Soto being a physical, human transplant from Puerto Rico.
This past spring, “Graft” appeared in Chicago as a solo exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center. Titled “Edra Soto: Destination/El Destino: a decade of ‘Graft'”, the exhibition brings forth a decade of Soto’s work evolution. As Soto said (courtesy of Chicago Reader) “The exhibition is anchored by an immersive sculpture composed of handmade motifs and fragments. Each fragment is a study or the remains of a larger iteration of ‘Graft.'”
Perhaps most powerful is that ‘Graft’ installations are usually presented in free, public spaces. This allows people from all backgrounds and demographics to learn together and to interact with the work collaboratively. Courtesy of an article by Ally Fouts for Chicago Reader, “This offers an element of chance and can lead to unpredictable outcomes not available within the constraints of a gallery space. In previous installments, this has resulted in stunning, surprising collaborations between Soto and other creatives.” Yes, agreed!