The Maps That Connect Us

When we moved into molasses residue/ triangle tradethe woods in “South County”, Rhode Island, I remember thinking this is as far away from Havana as I can imagine. As  I have dug deeper into this land- this other “island”, I began to encounter layers of buried history. One of them connected South County to the Caribbean and directly to Cuba. Rhode Island was one of the colonies most heavily involved with the “triangle trade”, the neutralizing term used to describe the sea faring trade that connected New England, West Africa and the Caribbean, its most valuable cargo being enslaved Africans. Rhode Island wasn’t just involved in the trading of slaves, the state was also heavily involved in the exports of food, livestock, and textiles needed to sustain the plantation culture of the Caribbean and in the South. Many of those products were made, grown, or bred on land here in South County. Negro cloth was produced at nearby mills, live stock such as sheep and horses were bred on Rhode Island’s Plantations a few miles away from us and closer to the shore.

My most recent project, a collaboration with Brown University’s, The Center for Slavery and Justice  helps to address this history.  The exhibition “Makers Unknown” / MaterialMolasses residue/ Ship stain Objects and The Enslaved”, is a combination of artifacts and art works opening on May 26th and continuing through the fall until October 31st.

Nimble thinking/The Peabody-Essex Salon

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I’m delighted to a part of a contemporary Salon bringing together artists and innovative administrators and curators. The exhibit featuring  contemporary women artists is a collaboration between the Peabody-Essex Museum, curator Olivia Ives- Flores, and Sweet Rickey, a film production company based in Boston.
The exhibit is a visual feast and in its choice of space answers the challenges that many major museums face, “how does a major contemporary museum in Salem Massachusetts stay vital, vibrant, close to a diverse audience and creatively nimble?  The Peabody-Essex curator, Trevor Smith, has been addressing this question in innovative ways with his project “Present Tense”. This Salon show moves into the  wonderful urban loft space of Sweet Rickey in the heart of Boston.  Tours for groups and individuals are made by contacting Olivia Ives-Flores

My work featured for the show is “Gaia’s Garden” and studies for “Sacred Grove”. These works are a reflection on the innovation and thoughtfulness of stewards of the environment.  Without their efforts we will have few areas of wilderness and open space, spaces of natural beauty where we can reflect and connect with more cosmic forces which take us outside of our selves. These conserved open spaces may join the ranks of museums in the future. “Studies for Sacred Grove” are maquettes for large public art scaled pieces, some of these have been cast in bronze, Sacred Ecology is one of these commissions.

Spring projects/A New Angle of Light

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The Heart Of The Matter, wood  30″x 36″2017

My pores and retinas register the changing light the way a tree must sense the light signaling its sap to rise.  The contour of the land re-emerges out of the blanket of snow and even the wrinkles across my face map a new terrain in the strong light. We are less than two weeks out from the Spring equinox and the heart of the land pumps with new urgency.

The work in the studio progresses steadily upwards to meet the deadlines for this spring.

 April 28: Poetry of the Wild/Newport sponsored by Salve Regina University launches with a poetry walk. The poetry boxes installed town wide will be up through August inviting public participation. More about the project in early April

May 26th:Opening for  Sculptural Installation at Brown University’s Center for Slavery and Justice. Installation explores the real human cost of the luxury goods we produce and use. Continues through November, talks and events TBA in May.

The fine line/ Art or Effigy?

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In 2002 I took my first trip back to Cuba, 40 years had passed since I left as a child of six with my family. We were one of the 1.5 million Cubans that  fled the island since 1959. That trip reconnected me to my Cubanidad- my Cubaness– and inspired a continuing series of work which only dig deeper into the Island’s history. This year I’m working on a project with Brown University on the history of slavery that connected Cuba and Rhode Island in the 18th and 19th century (Rhode Island has been my new island in the U.S. for thirty years).

castro-puppet-sideFor the first project on Cuba entitled, Cuba Journal,  I created a large Castro puppet that loomed over the entire exhibit casting a large shadow. When I created that large puppet in paper mache I thought I would also be burning it soon. How long can this dictatorship last I wondered? In 2004 Castro had already been in power for forty-five years. Cuba Journal traveled to  museums and galleries for three years from 2004-07 and still no shift of power occurred.

On Nov 25th, news finally came that the 90-year-old Fidel was dead. But in the meantime the United States has had a tremendous shift of power with Donald Trump as president-elect. A president-elect who is already upsetting many apple carts, so it is a strange time to be looking back at the long shadow of dictatorship. But its clear that the time has come to transform the Castro puppet into an effigy.

A friend called me yesterday morning asking me to reconsider and keep the Castro intact, “Keep it for history or sell it “. But clearly he doesn’t understand, so much of my work based on Cuba has been done to bring out the demons of displacement, of injustice, of erasure of history, of extreme corruption of power. If the demons were left lurking in my psychic closet who knows how monstrous they could become? As an artist what I can do is transform them and turn them into art- or effigies– shedding light on them so they begin to lose some of their fearful grip over us. Exhibiting them allows others to see them and bring their own parallel stories to share.

So the puppet will become effigy soon, I just need to find the right conditions and setting by the sea.  I’ll send out an invitation when the site and time has been chosen and perhaps you’ll join me for the fireworks.

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Vision

Nov 12, 2016

The great Spanish painter Francisco Goya has always been a hero of mine. He was the Court Painter for the decadent and corrupt family of the Spanish King Charles IV. From this coveted position he made the most visionary and radical expressions of the social landscape of the times. His vision of humanity was a timeless one which repeats itself over and over again, he captured our hubris, our vanities, our foolishness, our superstitions, our inhumanity.  Post election in the United States I keep thinking of Goya’s work, this  print from the series, Los Caprichos, the translation for the title which is: “The Dream of Reason produces Monsters”sums up what we are waking up to.

 

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New Work, New Collaborations

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What’s been happening in the studio lately goes public with this new season.  A new work Forest Memoir,    ( a 2-d and 3-d work) will be part of the Newport Art Museum Fall exhibit/ Networks 2016 produced by arts patron Joseph Chazan. Video portraits of each artist done by Richard Goulis are also part of this ambitious project to document the work of selected artists. The work on exhibit is part of a larger series of mine entitled, If Rocks Could Talk and Trees Could Walk.2014-16 

Upcoming Projects and Dates

shaman ladders for NW 1Shaman Ladders/2015  Ana Flores 10’x 10’x 14″

September 30th -January 16th Newport Art Museum  Networks Exhibition/Rhode Island Artists

October 2nd /Networks 2016 Artists Video Portraits by Richard Goulis, 1:30 pm Newport Art Museum

November Nov. 10, 11, 12

The Mind of the Mill / Projections on Slater Mill/ The birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Pawtucket,RI Outdoors beginning at dark.

Coming: April- Aug, 2017

Poetry of theWild/Newport sponsored by Salve Regina University

Artist Residency Brown University Center for Slavery and Justice. Providence, RI

 

 

 

 

Contemporary Magic Makers

 Magical is a word I’ve used too rarely lately instead my conversations have been laced with dark words such as demonic, crazy, and tragic. They are my response to the bad news that floods in daily on local and global fronts. Magical is a word at the opposite end of the spectrum- and I’m talking about white magic– describing the luminous powers of the human imagination to totally transport us, and allowing us to see what was not there before.  But this summer I had two art experiences that were just that- magical,  and thus worth sharing because we are all in need of being reminded of the wondrous things humans do.

3a6eb091c99a16105ba1fe5eb59ff399In early June I was touring galleries in the Chelsea district of New York with my daughter Sofia and her Danish friend, Magnus. Thanks to Magnus we stopped in to see “The Marionette Maker” at the Luhring Augustine gallery created by Cardiff and Miller, a Canadian artist couple known for their sound and theatrical installations. We’d just left the Gagosian gallery which was exhibiting Richard Serra’s  mammoth metal slabs positioned like giant dominoes that could easily topple. We’d tread nervously and briskly through fearing our minor weight could create just that tipping point.  The mood  in the Luhring Augustine gallery was altogether different, the audience there looked spellbound and like they might never leave.

We too began to circle clockwise around the vintage camper trailer  parked in the middle of the space. This was the stage for the Cardiff- Miller drama. With each loop around we noticed new things, we saw the marionette maker, a small puppet hunched over his drawings and imagining new designs. In different parts and windows of the trailer other small marionette figures gyrated each in their own reverie. Animated by simple robotic technology, a musician strummed obsessively at his electric guitar, an opera singer and her pianist practiced, then there was a life size woman sleeping. She was so real we watched for her chest to move up and and down, holding our own breath for a long time as we studied her.  Our voyeuristic trance was interrupted by the convincing soundtrack of rain and wind that filled the space outside the trailer. We were no longer inside the white walls of a gallery in New York, what forest clearing had we landed in? Who was creating the weather?

At the end of summer I drove through hundreds of mile of forests on I-95  to get to the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont. I was traveling up with a good friend and her daughter to visit the Bread and Puppet Theater at their home in Glover. We didn’t want to miss the last of their Sunday outdoor performances. I have been a Bread and Puppet theater fan for most of my life and to see them at their home base was one of my bucket item lists. Once off the highway you follow a small road for miles, and then without warning you cross their threshold. There is one of their painted school buses- with CHEAP ART painted big over the windows. Their home base is a large farm which has a natural amphitheatre perfect for an audience of at least three hundred and more to sit. Behind the amphitheater is a pine forest that has been planted. The forest is now at least forty years tall.

In the amphitheater we watched the drama of Gods and men of our contemporary world being played out by puppeteers wearing large masks and simple cloth costumes that stretched out dragon-like with several people in them or soared skyward thanks to the use of poles and stilts.  And of course there was lots of music and words. Some of the words lingered like a chorus, paraded in and out on cloth banners painted with big wet brushes, positive words such as  Courage, Hope, Awe, Listen.

A huge barn on the farm is the repository for decades of paper mache puppets of all scales waiting to come to life again, each a character in a timeless story. New puppeteers continue to come in waves to animate the paper mache into stories for today.  The planted Cathedral forest on the hill holds a more permanent and sacred stillness, here shrines and commemorative huts have been built for the puppeteers who have died. With each name and their dates we sense the shortness of their journey, the time-sensitive element of our existence. Who would have thought that paper mache would outlast flesh and blood?

Both experiences, one confined insidepeter-schumann a New York gallery and the other on acres of farmland were a full immersion for the senses, leaving me with a sense of wonder and awe. The creators of the Marionette Maker were not present in the gallery but their cosmic mind was in every element of the installation. I could imagine them at work on their next creation in their studio in British Columbia, somewhere where they can see the open expanse of a starlit sky every night. At Glover, I did see Peter Schumann the wizard behind Bread and Puppet.  If you didn’t know him you would have thought he was just a rumpled old man with his battered hat helping to cut bread, behind him a huge earth mound oven built from the soil there. But here was the sour dough bread of the Bread and Puppet, the simple sacred offering that he has made for over fifty years, baking and sharing it with almost every performance. The recipe is his mother’s. So I too broke bread with the many others who had been transported by the magic created that day – with such simple materials and such a wondrous mind. Thank you, please keep doing your work, we need it now more than ever.