Over the summer, Leslie C. Sotomayor, SoVA alumna and Ph.D. candidate in Art Education, had a solo exhibition, Hilos Rojos, a site-specific installation, at the Servando Cabrera Moreno Galeria in Havana, Cuba. Sotomayor has been traveling to Cuba, her mother’s homeland, since 2011, when she went on her first study abroad trip to the University of Havana, while she was an undergraduate student at Penn State. Her journey would be a catalyst for her art and research work, as Sotomayor met her maternal family in Santiago de Cuba for the first time.
Sotomayor’s art series began with the work of feminist activist, scholar, and poet Gloria Anzaldua. In Borderlands: The New Mestiza (1995), mestizaje, according to Anzaldua, is about the mixed inheritance, cultures, ethnicity, languages, and social positionality among other components of our identities. Anzaldua offers the ‘gap’ as a third perspective to negotiate these complex spaces.
Sotomayor says, “I live in the gap, in-between, where I pertain to many places simultaneously.”
Anzaldua in Luz en el Oscuro/Light in the darkness (2015) offers more depth to her theories about the process of Conocimiento containing seven transformational layers. These layers are: rupture/fragmentation, nepantla, desperations, call to action, a new story to the world, and the vision. For Sotomayor, the catalyst for creating Hilos Rojos was in the concept of mestizaje and her lived experiences in the gap, which inspired and deepened her understanding and knowledge about these transformations parallel to conocimiento.
In her art practice, Sotomayor has worked with the process of conocimiento interwoven with writing, documenting, and self-creating. In this way, Hilos Rojos is a result of the documented process as her testimonio. Her work is an incarnation of crossing the borders that exist within her identities as plural and hybrid. The crossings of borders in her life are made of multiple identities and experiences: mestizajes.
Sotomayor states, “My body is a geography of mestizaje and countries. For example, to go and return between the United States and Cuba, my body becomes a bridge born with hope, carrying pain, love, nostalgia, and holding memories.”
Her crossings have transcended the physical and spiritual borders. In her life, transformation has not been lineal, but fluid, crossing back and forth between the United States and the Caribbean. Sotomayor’s art, writing, and physical crossings are her auto-historia, her experiences and perspectives. The installation includes varied materials: fabric, tarp, her mother’s bedspread, bedsheets, plastic, and burlap. They have been painted with acrylic stains, some with coffee, and others with melted plastic and old cut-up photographs. Red threads (hilos rojos) unite the pieces. The red thread is used to stitch together materials, Sotomayor’s hair, and embroider her Cuban-Arab family’s name: Fayad. The needles are visible in the materials as they symbolize the continued suturing of fragments of her life, history, and crossings that continue. The art pieces are hung from the walls, ceiling, on the floor, or coming into the space. The shadows against the wall create a third space.
Hilos Rojos will not return to the United States; it will travel next to Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, her maternal family’s city. It will permanently stay in Cuba. “It is a part of me that will stay on the island that I have crossed back and forth to so many times,” Sotomayor concludes.
Sotomayor’s Hilos Rojos was made possible by the Laura Richardson Whitaker Research Scholarship and the Global Programs Graduate Student Travel Grant.