Latina Artist/Muralist Draws Fire For Her Depiction of Women of Color

by Latoya Peterson

Erica Kennedy and Marisol LeBron called our attention to controversy over a new mural in New York.

According to My Fox New York, opponents of the work claim that the mural (prominently placed on 42nd street) draws on negative images of black and Latina women:

The mural was recently put up on 42nd Street. It depicts black and Latina women with long fingernails and little clothing. The mural and its creator — a 26-year-old artist — are facing fierce criticism.

“Why are they not standing here with briefcases and cell phones or even communicating with people to show the professionalism of black and Latino women?” says Anthony Herbert, a community advocate. […]

However, Sofia Maldonado, the artist, explains that all her work is informed by a certain aesthetic: “The young artist, Sofia Maldonado, a Latina woman herself, says she’s bringing to Times Square a community of women representative of Harlem, Brooklyn, and other boroughs. And with it, a side of New York most tourists don’t see.”

Marisol LeBron points out the blatant racism and classism that accompanied many of the critiques of Maldonado’s work:

The most striking thing to me about the video and article was the conflation of working-class/poor women of color with “prostitutes.” That people were able to argue that these women with their “long finger nails” were sex workers of Times Square’s heyday was really complicated and problematic. It speaks volumes about the degree to which Times Square is not a space for “certain types” of New Yorkers, but rather a sanitized Disney version of New York City. In that respect I appreciate Maldonado’s claim that her mural makes visitors confront an image of NYC that they much rather ignore. Maldonado said this about the mural:

“The mural illustrates strong New York City women as a tribute to the Caribbean experience in America. Inspired by my heritage, it illustrates a female aesthetic that is not usually represented in media or fashion advertising in Times Square. It recognizes the beauty of underground cultures such as reggaeton, hip-hop and dancehall and incorporates trends such as nail art and Latina fashion. Green organic forms represent the imaginary land that third generation immigrants create in their minds about their countries of origin. I represent the characters and happenings that tourists usually do not see in Times Square, even though it could be a frequent scene in the other boroughs of New York City. These women are strong single mothers or wives who enjoy life and have overcome tough experiences living in and immigrating from a third world country.”

The mural appears to be consistent with Maldonado’s work in other places. Here is a shot (taken from her website) of a mural created in Puerto Rico:

Sofia PR mural

Part of me wonders how much of the backlash to Maldonado’s painting is influenced by its location. If she had hosted this mural where her other work appears (in predominately minority areas), I don’t think this item would have made the news. However, the change of venue may have lead some to be concerned – and not about the depictions themselves, but how those depictions would be received by people from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.

I suppose the ultimate opinion of the viewer about the mural comes down to one single question: Is Maldonado perpetuating stereotypes, or is she simply claiming her space?