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Taller Puertorriqueno Art Work Explores History of Textile Industry

J.Smith/El Hispano

Philadelphia – “It’s an extraordinary artwork that pays homage to the ordinary people who made the textile industry that once dominated this area,” said Rafael Damast, the Visual Arts Program Manager of the Taller Puertorriqueno.

While describing the installation of the newest addition to the Taller Puertorriqueno’s Garden at 5th and Lehigh – already festooned by a three-story mural – Mr. Damast watched with diffident admiration as a pair of Venezuelan-born artists fastened the several pieces together with the aid of local handymen Candido and Jose “as if it were a puzzle.”

The wooden sculpture of multiple images and components  evokes a rich sense of craftsmanship, community, family and the history of a neighborhood. The work of New York-based artists Patricia Cazorla and Nancy Saleme, from the design and carving to the painting, took nearly three months.

By immersing themselves in the Kensington, Fishtown and Easternorth Philadelphia  neighborhoods, the artists gathered the kind of visual and historical experience they ultimately depicted on to their wooden canvas.

Centered by the figure of a young seamstress, Cazorla and Saleme have juxtaposed the images of row houses, dilapidated textile factories and aging church steeples in a manner that has a sprightly narrative quality that is both compelling and complementary to the colorful Latin culture of the area.

Unlike a mural, the three dimensional aspect of the sculpture better reflects the historical continuity of an area that witnessed the arrival of Puerto Rican immigrant workers in the 1950s and 60s.

Both Venezuelan artists used their expertise in textiles and painting to produce a geometrical and dynamic piece of sculptural that illuminates the history of an apparel and textile industry which once provided hundreds of thousands of jobs, and some believe could be on its way back to this city. Today, due to  cheaper labor abroad, the former textile neighborhoods of Manayunk, Fishtown and Kensington, provide jobs for a little more than 2,100 workers.

The Puerto Rican woman looming over a blue sewing machine – a piece of purple cloth in her hands – dominates the work. Cazorla and Saleme’s soft color palette of greenish factory, brown church spire and purple row homes exudes not both a lyrical and earthy quality.

While Ms. Cazorla focused on the physical arrangement of the work, Ms. Saleme, a former designer of textiles, produced the ornate floral cutouts and the wording – Ilusiones, Magic, Suenos and Life – that accentuate the piece.

The official unveiling of this latest Taller work was on Friday, May 9th at 5:30 pm and is part of a series of summer events involving various other organizations and projects. JFS