Meet the Boricua Artist Edra Soto: Conquering the World One Piece At a Time

Edra Soto BELatina
Photo via www.cwarch.org

Art is, without a doubt, a fundamental part of the world’s development and the Boricua artist Edra Soto is well-aware of this. Using her Puerto Rican roots, Soto strives to create art that identifies closely to her. She also uses her platform as an educator, curator, and lecturer to further express the significance of art. Her creations are filled with passion and that’s something that can always be appreciated. So many things about Edra Soto are inspirational. 

Her journey started out in Cupey, Puerto Rico. Though she has since moved to Chicago, where she resides most of the time, Soto and her art travel all over the place. To her delight and many around her, she’s now experiencing the fruition of her hard work, but it wasn’t always this way. The reality is that she was extremely shy when she was younger. Therefore, speaking up was not her strongest suit. That is until she found out that she had a louder voice — the voice art gave her. From then on, she relied on her art to help her gain confidence and succeed in what she knew best. 

The following is an interview Edra Soto gave to BELatina. Please join me in learning some more about her. 

What style of art are you more inclined to create?

I’ve recently been focusing on site-responsive artwork. I’m expressing this through a collective project I’m part of named Graft. 

That sounds interesting. Can you tell us a bit more about Graft?

Well, Graft was inspired by vernacular art from Puerto Rico. It’s an architectural intervention series. I take away the influences from middle-class neighborhoods, typically neighborhoods built around the 1950s. I first worked on this project in 2013 and it came from an intervention of a house in Oak Park, Chicago. At that time, I focused on imagining a facade that I could use from this house. So, during a visit to Puerto Rico, while walking through one of the neighborhoods I visit, I couldn’t help but to visualize a facade of Oak Park there. That’s how Graft started coming together. The word itself says it all. Graft, in medical terms, means skin transplant. I wanted to somehow use architecture to talk about immigration. I wanted this piece to talk about my life, which has been greatly influenced by Puerto Rico and Chicago. Each section of Graft will take you to different places. That was the intention. 

Graft, Photo credit via www.edrasoto.com

I know that you have a lot of significant art around you. You even opened up a place where you display them called THE FRANKLIN. So, would you please tell us more about that?

THE FRANKLIN is a project space that was created alongside my husband Dan Sullivan. We designed THE FRANKLIN thinking about artist culture. We wanted to do something from the perspective of an artist. So, we took the initiative to create a space to make other artists visible. THE FRANKLIN is a model that is run by artists, rather than replicating models that already exist. This came from the fact that both of us really love art. We’ve always been the ones to spontaneously collect art by trading it with other artists. We would also source and buy art from nonprofit organizations. Because of THE FRANKLIN, other artists start donating too. Due to this and generous donations we had, including from the community college, the creation of this space was possible. The art we display is pertinent to the economy of artist culture. THE FRANKLIN has been running since 2012.

How can people go experience THE FRANKLIN?

We just did an exhibition. It was a one-night event for the students I teach. We will be doing more exhibitions next year. But, even if there aren’t any exhibitions running, people can always visit. The space is there in the backyard for people to see. 

I read that your work is consistently being presented in different museums and spaces. So, where is some of your artwork being exhibited at the moment?

I’m actually working on a few. I’m pleased to say that my work was recently commissioned to be displayed at Millennium Park in Chicago. This exhibition is a big deal because this is something that is usually male-dominated. But, having female artists was something that was stressed when this project was underway. All of the artwork was selected by curators and the project was funded by the park. Now, my work will be displayed, alongside the work of another local female artist, until 2021. 

Edna Soto Screenhouse at Millennium Park in Chicago
Screenhouse at Millennium Park in Chicago, photo credit via edrasoto.com

I’ll be in Morgan Lehman Gallery in New York City too. I’ll be part of StillEven, which is a five-person exhibition. The space will be opened on January 9th, 2020.  

I’m also getting ready for an exhibition at a new space in Buffalo, New York. The art gallery I’m going to is named Albright-Knox and the project I’ll be working on is on the Albright-Knox Northland. This project space is extremely large and it’s located in an incredible loft. There will be interactive exhibitions as well. I feel very fortunate to be part of their inaugural exhibition. The exhibition opens on January 17th, 2020. 

Another place I’ll be in is at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. This is a very important venue. There will be over 60 artists. I will be there for the inauguration of their new space, The Momentary. This space is meant to house large exhibitions or installation projects. It will be used to connect communities through art. The name of the exhibition I’ll be a part of is the State of the Art 2020.  It goes live on February 22nd, 2020.

You can find me at El Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico in April 2020 as well.  

I notice that you have immense success and that is quite admirable. However, I don’t know if you are aware, but many people are being discouraged from pursuing the arts as a career. Though I don’t agree with that, I’d like for people to hear some words of encouragement from you. What can you advise to Latinx artist trying to make it in the world of the arts?

First to understand why you are pursuing it in the first place. Ask yourself: What are your reasons? There must be a genuine reason to make art. I say this because I think art is a life philosophy. I’ve pursued my career for over 20 years and it hasn’t always been successful. Many times, I didn’t get anything from it. But, I was never able to let it go. How do you let go of something that is so important to you? I then realized it was going to take a lot of patience and understanding. So, you have to come to terms that this is your life. It’s also important not to think about getting attention or trying to become famous. Just be patient. 

What do you do when you need inspiration for a particular piece?

Well, I keep traveling to Puerto Rico and keep sourcing from my life there. It is still my main place of inspiration. It’s been like this for a while. I’ve just been so focused on my life in Puerto Rico and all the things that it made me. 

What piece do you hold closest to your heart?

The GRAFT. Even though I’m not the only one working on this, it really has allowed me to reach beyond. 

What has been the key element that you feel has allowed you to get to where you are now?

Lots of patience and not losing focus. 

Any words of wisdom for our readers?

Don’t let anything discourage you from your life goals. Keep going!