Chicago artist Edra Soto is having a moment. Following a large-scale sculpture as part of an exhibit at New York City’s Whitney Museum of American Art, her solo show at the Hyde Park Art Center is now open. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Soto came to Chicago for graduate studies and still lives in the city. Her large, porous sculptures, which are based on Puerto Rico’s decorative architecture, have graced both the Chicago Botanic Garden and Millennium Park. The current exhibition, “Destination/El Destino: a decade of GRAFT,” focuses on her work’s evolution over the last decade. Luxe had a chance to speak with Soto about her work and inspiration.
What architectural elements inspire you? Quiebrasoles, which are made of concrete blocks, and rejas, ornamental grilles or screens. Both are found in Puerto Rican homes built in the 1950s and ’60s. The symbology of these patterns originated in Ghana. I’m fascinated by their history and how they represent migration.
Why do you call this series “GRAFT”? Among the meanings of graft, one is a skin transplant. I think of the way these patterns on the façades of houses in Puerto Rico are architectural transplants from Africa, just as I am a transplant from Puerto Rico. Symbols gain value as they migrate between cultures, and that’s how I developed the project.
How does Puerto Rico continue to influence your work? Time has allowed me to see and document my home almost as a tourist, that distance has allowed perspective.