Meet Brenda Torres-Figueroa, the Boricua Navigating Historical Challenges and Latinidad Through Art
When interdisciplinary artist, educator and curator Brenda Torres-Figueroa made her brave move from Puerto Rico to Chicago, Ill., she only packed four items: a framed photo of the sky taken after Hurricane George (1998), a heart-shaped music box, a container half-filled with soil from her parents’ garden, and a few petticoats that belonged to her aunt and grand- mother.
Torres-Figueroa’s life experiences have fueled and inspired his innovative art exhibitions and his life’s work. She is currently working on the design of educational programs at the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center and is developing the third part of her series of exhibitions, “Dressed as home and refuge. “
But what really is the significance of his works of art and distinctive exhibits? BELatina news had the pleasure of telling her about her journey, how she uses her art to navigate the intersections between identity and memory, and the challenges she has encountered as an Afro-Latina in the world of ‘art. Let’s explore his mind.
I have read in previous interviews that you have experienced latinidad and colourism. Tell us about these experiences and how you are using your art to overcome these serious issues.
I use art to investigate and navigate the intersections between identity, nostalgia, domesticity, invisibility, and the embodiment of memory – for example, the appropriation of enagua (half leaf). The Enaguas are presented in my work as a metaphor for protection, decency and invisibility, but also politically. We cannot speak of enaguas without speaking of decency, without speaking of value and without speaking of damage. The idealization of this garment is not only visualized as a protection but as a perpetual implicit violence towards the bodies of women and the insistence on making them invisible. If we add, blend, or overlap the components of race and class, systems that perpetuate “modesty”, silence and invisibility, we still have many meanings to unpack.
One of the most important memories related to my work is that of my grandmother saying: “Hay que mejorar la raza. “As a visibly dark-skinned or Afro-Latina woman, the expectation was to be as light as possible or to assimilate to idealizations of beauty, sexuality, health, even at the cost of ‘erase my ancestors and their past. Our past.
What inspires your performance art and visual concepts?
Often it’s not even heavy stuff. But things that are not said. From the privacy of my home… the light, the plants, the silence, the solitude, the ocean. In the chaos of a city and public spaces and still unknown. Most of the things I connect with are memories, but also stories and moments from the past. I am obsessed with everything old, reused and reappropriated. I also like to use the colors white, ivory and red; and materials such as lace, embroidery, handmade paper, and heavily hand-woven fabrics. Culturally, white generally symbolizes purity, fellowship, and is used throughout many rituals. In my work, white is also a metaphor for mourning, death and transformation. The photograph is also incorporated as documents, both literal and tainted.
How do your clothes challenge societal perceptions in Homelessness Performance (2002-2020)? What inspired this performance?
Roaming speaks of the invisible and the invisible. This garment embodies the historic violence against the bodies of women, from enslaved women to those who have suffered forced hysterectomies on the island.
As a Latina, how do you overcome challenges in the art world?
I believe my work is overcoming the historical challenges that perpetuate control of the art world, from the invisibility of black Latino artists to the overrepresentation of white Latinos in leadership positions and institutional guidelines. The challenge is also about the value of stories and who is chosen to be placed in a larger or centered narrative or context.
As a black Latina artist, my responsibility rests on understanding the coded history that we have shared since colonization, resistance and transformation. It is my responsibility to ensure that future generations are able to map and relate all stories and stories as being of equal importance. It is also my responsibility to anchor / focus on the work that needs to be done in my communities.