Maria Teresa Madariaga is bigger than life

Maria Teresa Madariaga is the high-priestess of junk, bangles clanging, earrings jangling! Her handbag occupies the space of a suitcase and her voice overtakes every room.

She is a much appreciated local artist, a Cuban born diva with strong Aruban blood ties to the Chumaceiro family and half the phone book. When I met her she was reportedly sleeping under 100 yards of Belgium lace and mosquito nets. Why? Because she is a consummate collector, and hoarder, and at the time her traditional cunucu house in Sombre, served as the island Etymological museum, with over 10,000 square meters of collectibles on display, brought back to Aruba from her globe-trotting, self-searching years.

In the past decade MT forged a creative partnership with another remarkable junk artist, Luis Alonso Castano Benjumea, his work can be seen at the Aruba airport among other public spaces. When she had more than 50 hand-crafted leather purses hanging from the rafters, he suggested that she start selling some of them. Wow, what a concept. Not just making the artwork but also selling it. That was four years ago.

Since then MT has been making one of a kind bags, traffic stopping, exciting pieces, and she has a diehard following on the island. They all come around when a new collection of oversize statements leaves her workshop.

Last Saturday, a popup store at the House of Mosaic had another collection of about 40 bags, made its debut. Benjumea has been collaborating on bag design and production in the past eighteen-months, so that we in fact saw two collections, his and hers.

The leather comes from Argentina. MT goes there to buy materials, at fine leather tanning shops. Then the pieces get cut according to her original designs and they travel to Colombia to be hand-finished under her supervision, by Colombian artisans. The bags then are festooned with buttons, bones, beads, embroidery, buckles and frills, zippers and dangling objects, in silver, bronze, pewter, you name it, it all fits together. The decorations come from flea markets as far as Afghanistan and Turkey. The bags look solid and everlasting, an investment, a piece, a one of a kind, a bohemian irresistible temptation.

Yes, you have to sell your first-born, or mortgage the house to get one, but who cares, it is a work of art.

Next October MT and Benjumea are going to London, with a new ethnic, tribal collection already in MT’s head, she just has to go to Argentina now to buy the leather, then to Colombia to put her vision together, but don’t worry, it’s all there already, and Kings Row will be going ape-shit about it.