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Geografía(s) del Jiquilite al Añil is the inaugural solo exhibition by Puerto Rican artist Leila Mattina in the United States. It encompasses artworks and documentation that offer a comprehensive exploration of indigo production within the Puerto Rican archipelago.

Through meticulous research and a focus on material-based artistic practices, Leila Mattina unveils a wealth of insights derived from the cultivation and processing of diverse indigo varieties in Puerto Rico. Her work not only delves into the local nuances of indigo production but also casts a critical eye on their interconnectedness within the broader tapestry of the Caribbean and Latin America.

The exhibition aims to illuminate overlooked or eradicated craft practices in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean due to colonization, extractivist practices, destruction of natural resources, and modernization in the name of “progress.”

Installation view “Geografía(s) del Jiquilite al Añil” by Leila Mattina, at Cuchifritos Gallery, NY, 2023. Photo: Brad Farwell
Installation view “Geografía(s) del Jiquilite al Añil” by Leila Mattina, at Cuchifritos Gallery, NY, 2023. Photo: Brad Farwell

Geografía(s) del Jiquilite al Añil considers how blue—the color that indigo produces—connects us within and to the Archipelago, physically, historically, and politically. The exhibition showcases varieties of seeds, unprocessed fibers, powdered indigo, and a mortar.

All produced and sourced from Puerto Rico, these materials are gathered from TRAMA Antillana, a farm in Aibonito, Puerto Rico, founded by the artist. TRAMA Antillana educates the public on the processing of natural dyes and fibers, along with the chemical constituents and historical significance associated with these materials.

“The plant is harvested and then goes through a chemical process to extract its pigment. To obtain the color, it is brought to the same state in which it started. You start with something and come back to the same thing. It is cyclical. I feel that blue is a color that has quite a lot of historical power. It’s poetic just to harvest and process it,” said Leila Mattina in conversation with Steve Maldonado Silvestrini.

Installation view “Geografía(s) del Jiquilite al Añil” by Leila Mattina, at Cuchifritos Gallery, NY, 2023. Photo: Brad Farwell

Foto: Steve Maldonado Silvestrini’s “Indigofera Suffruticosa” and “Persicaria tinctoria» are currently on view at Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space

“I unconsciously involved painting with my textiles,” she continues. “It was because at that time my side job was working with a seamstress. I had to put on the buttons, change the zippers—that kind of thing. That influence helped me to continue investigating and continue that union of paint and textiles in my pieces.”

For the Puerto Rican archipelago—a land so fertile yet prevented from producing and exporting local goods by its colonial relationship with the U.S.—Geografía(s) del Jiquilite al Añil offers pathways for self-governance and self-determination.

Installation view “Geografía(s) del Jiquilite al Añil” by Leila Mattina, at Cuchifritos Gallery, NY, 2023. Photo: Brad Farwell

Gallery visitors can access a «reader» as a companion publication, which incorporates insights from Steve Maldonado Silvestrini, a Puerto Rican botanist specializing in the insular Caribbean. The second section, authored by curator Natalia Viera Salgado, explores themes like territory, water, and material. The publication culminates with a poetic contribution by collaborator Amanda Hernández.

“All of a sudden
The way painted itself blue
Azul the bus that takes us.
Azul the putrid heart of those sitting
Next to you,
The hope of reaching their destination.
Azul the seas that sway them towards their freedom.
The packet of cookies they offer me is
Also blue and it’s all they have left.
Azul the pair of jeans they wear and the
Document I carry,
The contradiction of this colonial
Azul the sea that drag-draws a new
Azul the junction. Venezuela, Cuba,
Haiti, Mexico, Dominican Republic,
El Salvador, Puerto Rico.
Azul the spilled tears and the lesson
They bring:
Sisterhood-solidarity, smiles of encouragement, soothing words.

Leila Mattina, excerpt from About the Darkest Shades of Blue, in Geografía(s) del Jiquilite al Añil. Material Suplementario (Reader)

Geografía(s) del Jiquilite al Añil is organized by Natalia Viera Salgado and co-presented by Artists Alliance Inc., Abrons Arts Center (New York, NY) and Pública (San Juan, PR).

On view through November 18, 2023, at Cuchifritos Gallery & Project Space, inside Essex Market, 88 Essex St., #21, New York, NY

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