Inspired by African customs and traditions, the Carolinian artisan Marta Beatriz De León gives free rein to her creativity by making clothes and accessories that have aroused the curiosity of many for her unique and colorful style.
The artist works from shirts, kufi hats, ties and scarves for men, to dresses, bags, ancestral necklaces, Zulu crowns and turbans for women. All the pieces that she makes carry that essence of African culture as her particular stamp.
“My art represents the pride of Afro-descendant women and men who feel proud of our race, who feel empowered and who dare to use all colors because Africa is bright, it is vibrant, it is joy and flavor,” said De León, who became interested in sewing with the purpose of creating pieces for her family, but her talent ended up being part of a cultural movement that she never imagined.
It all started in 1992, when De León decided to take a haute couture and design course with the renowned designer Carlota Alfaro.
“What I knew how to sew was for home economics, but I wanted to sew for my personal use and satisfaction. I received a scholarship for two years at that academy and with what I learned there I made my daughter’s fifteen-year-old dress, the one for the wedding, but it was only for my things”, recalled the 73-year-old woman.
Later, while working as a family and community technician at the non-profit organization “Aspira de Puerto Rico,” he was given the opportunity to offer workshops on making “aprons and other simple things.” She was heading like this, without realizing it, to become a fabric artisan.
It was not until he retired from his job in the Government, in 2008, that De León took a pastry course, which was one of his dreams and, instead of putting a net on his hair, he preferred to make a matching hat. with her apron. At that time, he caused a sensation and the public began to ask him to make pieces to sell.
“I knew Mimi Román, who had a very nice African style and always liked me to do things for her, and she was one of my models. She told me to get certified as a fabric artisan and she told me so in a way that motivated me. She guided me to prepare myself well, ”she said.
“So, in 2009 I went there (Industrial Development Company) with my tereques and I was scared because they said they didn’t certify fabric. The point is that the evaluator arrived and the first thing he did was put on one of my hats, to which I put camandula, and I passed the evaluation of the first visit”, said the artisan, who in 2021 also decided to become certified in the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (ICP).
immersed in learning
By 2010, De León was giving sewing courses at the Agricultural Extension Service. “The director Marilu Florí told me that, if she dared me to give some sewing courses and I got my hands on her… I thank Marilú very much because I was there from 2010 to 2012,” she said.
It was through Florí that the artisan had the opportunity to participate in a project of the Ilé Collective at the University of Puerto Rico.
“They invited me to those Ilé Collective workshops and they brought a black woman from New Orleans, named Kimberly, who gave us some techniques on how to put on different styles of turbans. There they taught us that turbans are not to cover the hair because it is ugly, nor is it to clean the house. The turban is an accessory to complement your wardrobe and, apart from that, in the turban the slaves carried many things such as food; it also protects you, empowers you and shows where you come from”, declared the septuagenarian.
Since then, De León has dedicated herself to promoting, not only African culture through her pieces, but also to educate and be an ambassador of our roots through her talent.
“I learned a lot about racism, about myths, I became aware of many things. I also learned the symbols that African fabrics bring because each one has a meaning. I dove in and all I do, mostly, is these kinds of clothes. I sew regular clothes, but it’s not my forte. I am well involved in this movement. That is my tendency and I enjoy it”, affirmed the artist.
For information, you can access their Facebook page: Diseños Afrocaribeños Marta or call 787-463-0047.