To get the full experience of this blog, we recommend listening to the Spotify playlist created by the author, Nia Gomez. The full track list is below.
- Teardrop – Massive Attack
- Anchor Song – Bjork
- Sullen Girl – Fiona Apple
- Dry Land – Joan Armatrading
- Symphony in Blue – Kate Bush
- Seascape – Tracey Thorn
- Salt of the Sea – Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions
- Sea, Swallow Me – Cocteau Twins
- Blue – Joni Mitchell
Soy Isla is an embodiment of artist Zilia Sánchez’s perception of self, a reflection on her place in the world (or lack thereof)—the dichotomy between self-ownership and solitude. This playlist is an interpretation of the Zilia Sánchez exhibition, using modern music to embody thematic elements of the artist and her work. The playlist is exclusively comprised of female artists, expressing the sensuality of the female physical form like the curved and stretched canvasses in Soy Isla. Works including Maqueta Soy Isla (1972/92), Juana de Arco (1987), and the lip-shaped imagery of El Silencio de Eros (1980) exude subtle eroticism in their composition.
Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” highlights the feminine sensuality and minimalism present in Topologia Erotica (1960-71) and Topologia from the series Azul azul. “Water is my eye. Gentle impulsion, shakes me, makes me lighter.” The muted pink and blue shades of the paintings exude a weightlessness upon the curves of the canvas.
The dissonant instrumental harmonies of Bjork’s “Anchor Song” mimic the dichotomy of peaceful and ferocious waves. A singular female voice sings, “I live by the ocean, and during the night I dive into it. Down to the bottom, underneath all currents, and drop my anchor.” Just as an anchor, Zilia is rooted as an island to her homeland of Cuba and current residence in Puerto Rico.
The separation of an island from other land is arguably applicable to Zilia’s experience as a queer Latina artist, disconnected from tradition and the mainstream art community. In “Sullen Girl,” Fiona Apple laments, “It’s calm under the waves, in the blue of my oblivion. They don’t know I used to sail the deep and tranquil sea.” Apple refers to “they,” those who do not understand. Zilia states that an island “belongs to only one thing” and that they must “understand it and leave.”
The first piece in the collection, both the canvas Soy Isla (2000) and the performance video Encuentrismo–ofrenda o retorno (2000) depict the release of the work into the ocean. In “Dry Land,” the unyielding voice of Joan Armatrading declares, “Tides and waves have kept me, kept me going. I’m longing for the calm.” In Zilia’s performance video and Armatrading’s words alike, the ocean maintains its subject in constant motion.
“Symphony in Blue” is carried by a bright and assured soprano tone as Kate Bush sings of her past: “I spent a lot of time looking at blue, the color of my room and my mood. Blue on the walls, blue out my mouth.” Azul Azul (1956) carries the entire spectrum of blue on 23×21 inches of canvas. Blue is not only a dominant color of the exhibition and the ocean, but also a feeling associated with the work. As displayed in the geographic landscape of Soy Isla: Comprendelo y retirate (1990), a blue pointed center is isolated from a blue perimeter of the canvas. Circles of white and grey surround the center, creating a protective barrier from the origin of the circle outward. The blue center is isolated, potentially lonely, as the title of the piece asks the viewer to “understand and retreat.”
The lyrics of the acoustic melody “Seascape” by Tracey Thorn allude to nostalgia and a relinquishing of control: “Watching tides that take me away, to a distant shore. And I don’t want to be saved.” Upon release in Enceuntrismo–ofrenda o retorno (2000), Zilia’s canvas is left to be governed by the intention of the waves. Coexisting as the black image on white canvas in Zilia’s Subliminal (1972), Hope Sandoval’s “Salt of the Sea” pairs a gently xylophonic chime with a wailing electric guitar. Above it, a sirenesque tremor whispers an ode of her wanted fate: “Waiting to fly around the salt of the sea. A way to be, a way to be.” The Cocteau Twins’s “Sea, Swallow Me“ from the album The Moon and the Melodies reflects multiple components of the exhibition: the presence of the ocean as translated in the blue tones of Azul azul and the lunar motifs of Lunar V (1973) and Lunar (1980).
Joni Mitchell’s iconic “Blue” references tattoos, which are featured on works including Soy Isla (1970), Untitled from the series Afrocubanos (1957), and Concepto Z (1976). Mitchell observes, “Blue songs are like tattoos, you know I’ve been to sea before. Crown me and anchor me, or let me sail away.” Tattoos, as markings on the body and imagery thought to be essential to ones sense of self, could further represent the experiences that shaped Zilia’s identity. Like Joni Mitchell, Zilia knows the sea, feeling its presence as boldly as black ink upon skin. With intense sentiment, familiarity, and elusiveness, Zilia Sánchez proclaims her place as an island. This contemporary music interpretation is intended as a response, a respectful communication with the many forms of Zilia Sánchez represented in her work.