The Caribbean has been especially hard hit with hurricane Irma this season. The islanders know too well that their weather can be pure bliss or hell and thus has been their history. The word hurricane came into the English language from the extinct Taino language, huracán, god of the storm. The Tainos were an indigenous tribe living on the islands of Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico when the Spanish conquistadors sailed in. Unfortunately their resilience to hurricanes proved no match to the devastation of colonization.
This Fall sculptures and paintings from my ongoing Cuba series are in numerous group shows in New England.
Sept 1-29 University of Rhode Island/ Providence Campus, Feinstein Lobby, Cuba Inside and Out, Reception Sept. 21 5 pm.
At the end of June I got on a plane headed for Catalonia, Spain. After completing two demanding projects, Poetry of the Wild/Newport and Makers Unknown I needed a recharge on many levels. The first week I was in residence at the Art Print Residence in Arenys del Mar, a fabulous printmaking studio where I was training in wood lithography and wood cut for future projects. This last week, I’m in Barcelona with the Jiwar Residency creating a poetry box for the city, the second international box for Poetry of the Wild. My timeline is short, one week, and this is Barcelona with its delightful distractions. The residency is based in a historic section of Barcelona, Gracia, with a very strong sense of neighborhood. I’ve come with no tools and must rely on what I find in the city. Miro, and his visual poetry is an obvious inspiration. Here are my notes as the process unfolds.
When we moved into the 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” / Material Objects and The Enslaved”, is a combination of artifacts and art works opening on May 26th and continuing through the fall until October 31st.
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.
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.
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).
For 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.
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.