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.