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Searching for Family’s Legacy in Borland Exhibition

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You Cannot Write on Water by Leslie Sotomayor

An exhibition of mixed-media works by Leslie Sotomayor, B.F.A. candidate in painting and drawing and a Penn State McNair Scholar, will be on display in the Borland Gallery on the Penn State University Park campus, August 26-September 6, 2013. Gallery hours are 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday.

The exhibition, titled Restos de una vida anterior: Anhelo de (re)escribir sobre el agua (Remnants of a former life: longing to (re)write on water), represents Sotomayor’s desire to understand and connect with her family’s history. “The person I am today has much to do with the people who have come before me, and I am akin to.” She works on large-as-life canvasses, using paints, stains and common objects to create a depth to the canvas that reflects her nostalgia and interest in investigating the migratory journey of her family, from New York to Cuba and Puerto Rico to Lebanon and Syria. Relating the journey to the movement of water, Sotomayor describes her current work as “…longing, el arrastre (pull) for sources of inspiration, life and transportation to other places; the migration of identity.”

“You Cannot Write on Water” represents a time in Sotomayor’s life that she describes as both bruising and healing. Incorporating pieces of her history, including yarn and parts of a bedspread, on the canvas, she describes the work as an open emotional wound, vulnerable and exposed, that allows her to vent and heal.

A non-traditional student, Sotomayor is a multi-ethnic mother of three in her early 30s, majoring in women’s studies, African studies and fine art, and minoring in Latino/a studies and Latin American studies. Her area of research is the era of migration into Cuba, tracing her maternal family’s heritage from the Middle East, through Cuba, to New York.

As an undergraduate, Sotomayor has served as a panelist at numerous conferences, including the Women’s Studies Graduate Organization (2011, 2013), Communication Graduate Research and Discourse (2013), and National Women’s Studies Association (2012); teaching assistant in African History 191 and Latin American and Caribbean Cultures 497; president and treasurer of TRIOTA Honor Society in Women’s Studies; and a member of Penn State Commission for Women. She has received several awards, including the Bunton Waller Award, Mimi Barash Coopersmith Endowed Scholarship, and the Laura Richardson Whitaker Award. Funding for her research includes an Africana Research Center Grant, Africa and Latin American Grant-In-Aid Program, and Commonwealth Scholarship Study Abroad Global Program.

Upon graduation in 2014, Sotomayor will continue her academic career at Penn State. “As a McNair Scholar, I hope to continue my research interests through a combination of interdisciplinary Ph.D. programs in women’s studies, fine art, and Latin American studies,” Sotomayor says. “Women’s studies offers the basis of feminist methodology; Latin American studies contextualizes Caribbean cultures; and art is a vehicle in which to cohesively reflect these historical and contemporary themes.”