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Nereida Garcia Ferraz

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, 2005

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 since 1977.

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.

Alexander Lamazares

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