Art

Quilting a Patchwork of Latin American and Caribbean Identity

There is nothing about Sylvia Hernandez’s colorful quilts that is posturing, nor is the work ingratiating, playing up hackneyed tokens of Hispanic heritage.

Sylvia Hernandez, "Café Bustelo" (2016)
Sylvia Hernandez, “Los Abuelos Padilla” (2016) (all images courtesy of Caribbeing and the artist)

The quilts created by hand by Sylvia Hernandez (aka Brooklyn Quilt Girl) and currently on the wall of caribBEING’s mobile house are so sincere that I immediately like them. There is nothing about them that is posturing, as if they deserve a viewer’s attention for merely being culturally authentic. Nor is the work ingratiating, playing up hackneyed tokens of Hispanic heritage. Yet there are clear signs signifying a Puerto Rican cultural inheritance and indications that the artist’s embrace of this Boricua legacy impels the work.

There is the quilt with an image of a woman, “La Lupe” (2016), on a panoramic color field, her dark hair and intensely direct gaze indicating that she is no wilting flower. This image plays on the archetype of the fierce Latina woman and points to a kind of amalgam of Hispanic, Latin, and Chicano references, which suggest Hernandez regards them as all drawing on a common cultural source. And she shows this commonality in other works.

Sylvia Hernandez, "La Lupe" (2016) (All photos courtesy of Caribbeing and the artist)
Sylvia Hernandez, “La Lupe” (2014)
Sylvia Hernandez, "Cafe Bustelo" (2016)
Sylvia Hernandez, “Café Bustelo” (2013)

In “Café Bustelo” (2016) there is an image of part of a can of the infamous, ubiquitous coffee, which can still be found in many bodegas and corner stores in primarily Spanish-speaking neighborhoods (and other districts too) around New York City. Another quilt, “Postcards from the Ancestors #2” (2016), directly illustrates the key idea of a shared cultural pantheon through a gathering of small portraits of culturally prominent Caribbean and Hispanic figures, including Celia Cruz, Roberto Clemente, Julia de Burgos — and, reaching further back into that shared Latin history, Cesar Chavez, Frida Kahlo, and Jaime Escalante. And then there are the images that are more personal. In “Los Abuelos Padilla” (2016), the artist depicts a photorealist image of her husband’s aunt and uncle against a colorful floral pattern, with all their children represented by birds.

Each quilt takes Hernandez days or sometimes weeks to complete, and they are all lively with color of various hues, but mostly bright and bold — sunny yellows, rich reds, and succulent shades of violet. The seem to me formed by Hernandez’s desire to stitch herself into a cultural and historical scheme, to make the recognition of ancestral connections as instinctual as sipping one’s morning coffee.

Sylvia Hernandez, "Ancestors" (2016)
Sylvia Hernandez, “Postcards from the Ancestors II ” (2016)

#Brooklynquiltgirl continues at the Carribbeing House(794 Flatbush Avenue, Flatbush Caton Market, Flatbush, Brooklyn) through November 19.

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