Working essay for show at Cushing
Martin Gallery, spring 2005
Here and There: Deterritorializing
Miami and Havana
The Cushing Martin Gallery at
Stonehill College invites the public to welcome one of the most
acclaimed Cuban-American artists, Nereida García-Ferraz.
Her new work runs from April 3 through May 7 of 2005. This exhibit,
her first solo-show in New England combines digital photography
and drawings, whose works are a return to Cuba, projecting on
works of memory, the loss and displacement of exile, the fragmentation
of Cuban culture, and the possibilities for national reconciliation.
The contact points between here and there could be seen as a
stunning coincidence if we did not know that her current work
is separated by two halves: Miami and Havana. These fragments
of a biographic history are like a cadaver esquis
where the sequence of events is distorted and where local and
worldly things acquire transcendental relevance (and vice versa).
This body of work is an
investigation of my own history as a Cuban-American. My drawings
are about connecting voices and influences, reacting to news
media and remembering the Cuban landscape. -Nereida García-Ferraz,
Nereida García-Ferraz was
born in Havana in 1954 and migrated to the United States in
1970. She grew up in Chicago and received her BFA from the Art
Institute of Chicago in 1981. García-Ferraz has developed
esteem as one of the most significant Cuban-American artists
with countless exhibitions throughout many of the most prestigious
venues in the country. As an interdisciplinary artist, this
is the first time her photography and drawings will be shown
together. Among various awards and accolades, García-Ferraz
has been the recipient of fellowships from such distinguished
fine art organizations as the National Endowment for the Arts,
the Richard Diebenkorn Fellowship from the San Francisco Art
Institute, and the Ford Foundation. García-Ferraz founded
the photography program at MCLA, the San Jose Center for Latino
Arts. She is the co-producer of the seminal documentary, Fuego
de Tierra, which covers the life and work of Ana Mendieta. This
video won Best Video Documentary in the 1988 National Latino
Film Festival, and was selected by MOMA and Women Make Movies
as one of the top 25 documentaries, which is currently being
shown as part of the Ana Mendieta traveling retrospective at
the Whitney Museum, Hirshorn Museum in Washington, D.C. and
the Miami Art Museum among others. García-Ferraz currently
lives in Miami, Florida and has been teaching and exhibiting
This show is the cumulus of the
last three years of her work. Her photography pieces, such as
Bambolas, take reference from her old family photographs and
a collection of miniature iconographic propaganda from the early
1900s, as well as images from Havana and personal experiences
as a Cuban in Miami. The references change but a common history
remains. This recent body of work explores the reconnection
of the many nuances of multiple voices and influences throughout
her life as an artist; it offers the remembrance of geography,
literature, family albums, popular sayings and the many other
stimuli presented throughout her life. Her current drawings,
prepared on newspapers from the New York Times Review of Books
and the ¡Exito! Section of El Nuevo Miami Herald, offer
a palimpsest of connecting voices, stimuli, and experiences.
By painting the newspaper pages in black and covering
the information from daily classified ads, entertainment pages,
and images of sex and politicians, I draw as a reaction to the
news García-Ferraz states. In doing this, she is
recreating and constructing a personal cosmology in red and
white dry pigments.
While this work is inspired by
literature, family albums, personal diaries, Spanish tarot cards
and popular myths and sayings, her red and white colors are
embedded with the mythology associated the culture of Santería,
and Afro-Caribbean syncretic religion that fuses the African
Yoruba religion with Catholic saints, customs and traditions.
Her work is filled with a mythological lexicon that is ritualistic,
fertile with seeds, fruit, shells, tropical flora, recurrent
with iconographic figures, Spanish tarot cards, animals, family
photographs, mystical centers of power, and visual representations
of the Afro-Cuban deities and images - all poetically fashioned
by the marking of distances: the aquí and allá,
or the here and the there. Her untitled
series of drawings have a sensual connection, where each individual
develops a personal, socio-cultural, and mythological dialogue
with each other, ad infinitum.
Garcia-Ferraz's choice of red
and white pigments has an uncanny relation to Shangó,
the most popular of the orishas or Santería deities.
Shangó rules over lightning, thunder, fire, drums and
dance. He embodies passion, virility and power. He also symbolizes
war and dance. He is a warrior deity and is often represented
by a double-headed axe. His representative holy colors are red
and white. Shangó's demands involvement in life and living
life to its fullest. His Catholic counterpart is attributed
with Saint Barbara, the patron saint of artillery. The resemblance
between the images of the Yoruba deities and the Catholic saints
perhaps give reason for the identification of Shangó
with Saint Barbara. For instance, the statue of Saint Barbara
is made with a cup in her hand; Shangó carries a mortar.
The image of the saint includes a sword in the other hand; Shangó
wields an ax. Shangó's colors are red and white; Saint
Barbara's mantle is red and her tunic is white. Similarly, the
bead-like images in her drawings continuously intermingle with
each other and draw a parallel reminiscent with the beadwork
common in the Cuban decorative elements and artifacts used in
Santería. For instance, a necklace dedicated to Shangó
may consist of repetitions of six alternate red and white beads.
The white beads in her drawing series create a mythological
and sensual discourse with each one of the drawings, inviting
each drawing to become part of one great masterpiece. Some of
the pieces poetically converse and dream with Cuba; others articulate
García-Ferraz's bicultural reality in Miami.
It is not the artist's intention
to resolve the debate between the outside and the
inside of Cuban culture. García-Ferraz's
art, however, illustrates a relationship between processes of
displacement shared by these cities -Miami and Havana- that
otherwise appear to resist absolutely any sort of communicative
flow. This flow remains constant: many Cuban artists travel
today in one direction or the other, to and fro, causing the
idea of an inside and outside to become
even more fragile and dysfunctional.
Though the official discourse
about Cuba in Cuba might seem to be the exact opposite of the
dominant discourse about Cuba in the U.S., these two discourses
do have much in common: they are really two sides of the same
coin. Echoing each other, they constitute one single dominant
discourse that makes us believe that Cuba and Miami are forever
reconcilable realities, with the good guys on one side and the
bad guys on the other, with happiness on one side and unhappiness
on the other, with success on one side and failure on the other.
Their work seeks to contradict that version by offering a deterritorialized
version that offers a corrective to the polarized vision that
dominates the debate about Cuba.
Miami and Havana are metaphorically
connected with their experiences of migration and exile, with
living a life in two places at the same time: here and there.
They are about the invention of a personal space that defies
conventional mapping methods. They are about weaving in and
out of familiar and unfamiliar territory, of taming the unknown
by transferring or projecting what is familiar. The visual representation
of Havana and Miami are not just about those two specific places.
They are deeply interconnected to the forces that determine
such ruptures -the forces of ideology.
This has also been a logical contradiction
between the cities of Havana and Miami, united by desire. One
could say that between the two spaces is something like an erotic
complicity. They long for one another and repel one another.
The Cubans living on the island and in exile have struggled
with the diffuse sense of coming and going, searching for themselves
in a continuously interchangeable inside and outside. The succession
of generations of Cubans that emigrated in a period of forty
years to the United States have spent their lives planning their
return and recovery of the lost paradise that politics
and power relations had made disappear. At the same time they
built a city made from the images and likenesses of the one
they had left behind, a nostalgic and provisional chimera -where
the memory was recycled in a scenery trying to establish a neurotic
balance of mirroring relation with its original.
However, it is not a mirror that
reflects the real image but the desire that has become the fossil
of an image idealized by distance and memory. Singularly generous,
García-Ferraz invites the viewer to interpret her universal
work, as she will, in recognition that meaning is usually dependent
on cultural context. Such munificence is embedded by the art
itself. García-Ferraz understands her project to be an
extended collaboration with the public. Her gift in return,
in hopes that those who participate will contemplate the social
and cultural themes so delicately embedded in her art.