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My Mural, My People

Posted: 03/30/10 03:35 PM ET

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Photos by Zach Callahan.

My much-debated 42nd Street Project mural is not meant to represent all Latina and Black women -- we are very diverse. It is a compilation of memories and experiences I have had through my mural paintings in New York, Puerto Rico and Hartford, Connecticut (in my Real Art Ways public art project). This mural speaks to those who identify with it. I sincerely apologize to those who are offended. But this mural isn't a first -- I have been working with this female imagery for about 10 years.

This is the first time my use of this imagery has caused such a debate. The reactions, the controversy and the dialogues that the mural has sparked have motivated me and others. They have made us all reflect and discuss, and have opened a space where everyone can come to his or her own conclusions. As an art piece it has accomplished its purpose: to establish a dialogue among its spectators.

Times Square Alliance did not commission my mural for Women's History Month. Although we had expected to put it up by mid-February, our schedule was delayed, so we installed it in March.

As a Caribbean woman, I feel my images have opened a discussion about how people identify with and visualize women who dress like this in our communities. Protesters have called these characters degrading names (such as: "cheap hoes," "prostitutes," "going back to the past," "section 8" ... etc.). Respect should not be linked to a dress code. Who has made us believe that this way of dressing is cheap? Or negative? Why do women like this, women who exist in our society, offend people? Can't these women in our society be smart, hard-working individuals? Who has imposed the "correct" image for women to take through the years? Isn't there room in art for them, too?

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The manifestations of disapproval have demonstrated that some people want to deny the existence, the beauty (yes, the beauty) and the self-worth of women who have tattoos, nose or belly rings, big "bling bling" jewelry, and stretch clothing.

These are working women, just like the rest of us. They're not working in Wall Street? They're not carrying briefcases? Well, that does not make them less professional -- even though they might not fit in with Corporate America.

I have lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant for 4 years. I see women with different styles: women dressed for church, women walking to work (with briefcases!), single mothers with strollers, nail and hair salon owners, college students, schoolgirls, and many others. It is a very diverse community, of course. Vive la différence!

In all societies the dominant culture wants to dictate the image of success. I am interested in representing women who choose not to play into these ideals, and are judged unfairly because of this. My mural speaks up for those woman -- who exist, and are proud of their long nails, stretch clothing, tattoos, and piercings. As one commentator said: "Don't you dare call her a hoe! Cuz' she will slap ya' face right up... Aight?"

At the moment I am working on my next solo show, which will take place on June 17 at Magnan Metz Gallery in New York. This exhibition will offer more insight into my most recent artwork: works on paper, canvas, video, and a life-size installation. To view my portfolio visit my website (sofiamaldonado.com), and to keep up with updates of my life and work visit my blog (fiaaas.blogspot.com).