Creating from the soul. This is what guides Sofia Maldonado, a Puerto Rican artist of Cuban descent, who the Latin Recording Academy named as the official artist of the 21st Latin Grammy Awards, the first Puerto Rican woman to design the art for the Latin Grammys. The poster is an ode to the Caribbean and the resilience of its people with vibrant splashes of yellow, Fuschia, green, and blue exploding around the leaves of a beloved Puerto Rican native tree — the yagrumo.
An acclaimed painter and muralist from Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, Maldonado graduated from the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn, New York, and the San Juan School of Visual Arts. She has shown her work in individual and collective exhibits in galleries, museums, and public spaces all over the world, including the Whitney Biennial, the Museum of Latin American Art, Scope, and Art Miami.
Grammy CEO Gabriel Abaroa asked Maldonado for something that represented unity and positivity to this year’s 21st Latin Grammys celebration, Maldonado told Hello Magazine.
And she did just that.
BeLatina spoke to Maldonado, and even in a Zoom meeting, her vibrant blue hair and matching sparkling eyes and bright studio told of her love of color.
“The color and the thematic of having the Yagrumo tree resembles my family in Puerto Rico, as it does the countryside,” she said.
Maldonado wanted to pay homage to the Puerto Rican people’s resilience and illustrate the joy with which they endured hurricanes Irma and Maria, three years ago. Puerto Rico was left shattered, plunged into darkness, and mourning the deaths of almost 3,000 Puerto Ricans.
The use of the Yagrumo tree is significant because it’s the first to re-emerge and grow stronger after a hurricane. The tree itself is also used to create musical instruments such as the tiple and Puerto Rican cuatro, a traditional string instrument that resembles a mandolin.
Maldonado’s Latin Grammy poster is an abstraction of color, and it’s both beautiful and female. It’s full of that special light that one finds only in the Caribbean, where the shadows are almost warm to the touch. One half expects a trio of impish nymphs to peak out from the yagrumo leaves. In the center is the iconic gramophone that represents the Grammys.
It is the first digital piece done by an artist for the Latin Grammy, and Maldonado used her Ipad and computer. The canvas was in acrylic on linen.
“The inspiration behind the Latin Grammys artwork is a mix of our current times, my home country Puerto Rico, and an air of hope & unity between our Latino communities,” Maldonado said in a recent interview.
Maldonado’s characteristic style is recognizable in the palette of yellow’s, blue’s, Fuschia, and green. One can feel the feminine energy in the delicate outlines of the leaves — Maldonado is known for female forms; her work has been diverse, starting with a focus on the female figure and hip hop, influenced by graffiti. Presently, she creates murals and works on site-specific projects.
“A common theme through all of them is the spirit of resilience, and the sense of empowerment we Latinos derive even during difficult circumstances. The colorful and welcoming aesthetic of the poster is inspired by our vivid lifestyle and passion for music, showing how we rely on joy to navigate even the most challenging times,” she said.
The collaboration is particularly fitting since this year the Latin Grammys will present three new categories, including Best Reggaeton Trap Song and Best Rap/Hip Hop Song, genres close to the artist’s soul and art. Maldonado’s work is unique because she weaves abstract art and reggaeton and honors women’s role within trap and hip hop culture.
“As a Puerto Rican artist, I am particularly excited to design the Latin Grammy’s poster at a time when a genre so rooted in our experience gets honored and celebrated in such a big way, as it deserves to be,” she added.
Her art also seeks to empower women, especially the Puerto Rican women of her generation, sending the message with her use of form and color that female energy is freedom. “Podemos bailar, podemos perrear,” she says.
Her work on the life of women in trap and hip hop culture, which spans from 2010-2017, is currently being celebrated in a retrospective titled Las Chicas de Sofia. The retrospective opened in August of this year in the Sala de Exposiciones del Plata Salvador Rivera in Dorado, Puerto Rico, and runs until December.
Maldonado believes that Caribbean women have a different language, a figurative language important in her plastic art, she said. It translated to her poster art. “It’s the way I feel Latin music,” she said.
When asked recently what positive message she would send to the Latinx community and emerging Latinx artists, Maldonado said: “Dream big, and keep creating from the soul.” Her message shines through in her poster art.