By Kary Vannice
“Close to Darkness” reads the T-shirt of Oaxacan artist, turned fashion designer, Soid Pastrana as he stands in front of a display of his latest work. He’s sporting an easy smile and a pair of oversized sunglasses. Yet, behind those dark shades lives a world of colorful imagination that spills out of his mind onto nearly any surface he can get his hands on; an imagination that was fueled by his childhood on Isthmus of Tehuantepec, growing up in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Juchitán. Soid spent his early years not only surrounded by the vibrant colors of every Mexican town, but also the colorful language of his people, Zapotec.
Early days spent playing with other neighborhood children in the streets of Section 7 probably had Pastrana ducking and playing amongst the brightly colored dresses worn by the local women: dresses that reflect the close bond that all Zapotecs have with nature, almost always displaying the flamboyant design of local flowers, birds, and butterflies among the folds and curves of floor length dresses.
As a young student with an obvious aptitude for art, painting and drawing at a very early age, his talent was evident. As a young man, this talent took him from the back streets of Juchitán to the School of Design of the Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico, D.F. Not long after finishing at the School of Design, Pastrana’s art was featured in local galleries in his home town. Next, came an opening in Mexico City and shortly after a feature at a museum in Cuba. His artistic “voice” of the Zapotec people was emerging and extending beyond Mexican borders when he was in his mid-20s.
In 2001, Pastrana presented an exhibition entitled The Color of My Land, in Jakarta, Indonesia. His art has also been featured in collections in China, Japan, and the United States. And while he has traveled the world as a noted artist, he has never forgotten where he came from and still lives in Juchitán. Something else that Pastrana never forgot were the traditional dresses warn by the women of the Isthmus.
He describes the paint of he puts on canvas as something that lives in his veins and admits to wrestling with the idea of being a “designer” over a “painter”, when in truth, he is both. Nowadays his “workshop” is shared by ten local women who make his paintings come alive on the fabric of brightly colored blouses and dresses. Incredibly proud of his culture he also feels, as an artist, it is his duty to break the confines of culture.
He is doing both, and doing it beautifully. At once, he is preserving the culture of embroidery that has been a part of the Zapotec culture for centuries, while pushing it forward by applying it to new fabrics and incorporating modern images from his world travel and his own personal designs.
The result is a unique clash of cultures and colors with multi- colored elephants from Indonesia and Koi fish of Japan appearing alongside roosters and calaveras (skulls) of Mexico. Pastrana’s bold deviation from the “traditional” dress has gained him acclaim, as well as criticism. He takes it all in stride, never losing his sense of humor, but always defending his position as an artist to push the boundaries of art and fashion.