Away from home

July 17, 2011

Posted: Sunday, July 17, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 4:51 pm, Fri Jul 15, 2011.

By MARY JEAN PORTER | maryp@chieftain.com | 0 comments

Family, love, sex and sadness are currents running through “women.embodied,” a collection of artworks by expatriate Cuban women.

On display in the King Gallery at the Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center through Oct. 15, the pieces were brought together because women seemed to be under-represented in the larger show, “Cafe XII: The Journeys of Writers and Artists of the Cuban Diaspora,” on display this summer in the White Gallery at the arts center.

Karin Larkin, Sangre de Cristo’s curator of visual arts, said she and guest curator Andrea O’Reilly Herrera wanted to put together a show that highlights “women’s issues through women’s art” while still fitting within the framework of Cuban artists at work away from their homeland.

“One of the reasons we wanted to separate the women is because the issues (expressed) aren’t overtly political,” Larkin said. “They are more universal — and a lot are sad.”

The exhibit is dedicated to Ana Mendieta, who probably is the most well-known of the women. She was among the thousands of Cuban children brought to the United States through Project Peter Pan and placed in Catholic orphanages, following the Cuban revolution in 1959. Mendieta became an installation and performance artist whose work centered on what she called “earth-body forms.” She died in 1985 at age 36 at her home in New York under mysterious circumstances.

Larkin said what the women artists’ careers and lives would have been like had they remained in Cuba depends on the person.

“Ana Mendieta and her sister were ripped away from her family and they lived basically in an orphanage for delinquent kids. It was really, really tough for her. When they went there (to Dubuque, Iowa), it was snowy, and they’d come from Cuba. They had come from an upper-middle-class loving family, and it was just her and her sister in this yucky, yucky place.

“You can see a dark streak in her work,” Larkin said. “There’s a lot of blood and dirt in it.”

Four photos of Mendieta’s installations done in Mexico are included in “women.embodied: Cuban Women’s Art from the Diaspora,” as are poems about her by Cuban writer Lourdes Gil, who knew Mendieta as a child in Cuba, and a coffeetable book devoted to Mendieta’s art.

Work by guest artists from the U.S. is included in the show, which is a CAFE (Cuban American Foremost Exhibitions) tradition, and the invited artists’ ethnic backgrounds — white, black, Asian, Native American — symbolize some of the many cultures that have come together in Cuba, Larkin said.

The show’s two attention-grabbers are large wood sculptures by Ana Flores, “Black Madonna” and “Dream of Freedom.” The first is cut off at the rib cage, seated on a wood rocker and accompanied by the pencil scrawl: I don’t remember her face but I do remember how she comforted me and laughed with me. My mother smelled of fancy French perfumes, my tata’s (nanny’s) embrace smelled of earth and smoke.

“I love, love, love Ana Flores’ sculptures,” Larkin said. “The ‘tata’ symbolizes the nanny. A lot of them were black women. The reason this piece is fractured (cut in two, and with large cracks) is these women had to leave their own families and care for other women’s children.”

Flores’ “Dream of Freedom” is a seated nude woman whose head has been replaced with a birdcage in which a video player endlessly repeats scenes of blue ocean and soaring sea birds, and emits the sound of waves.

Maria Brito’s painting, “Feed,” shows a girl in a green velvet dress and black mary-jane shoes who’s connected by a feeding tube to an anxious-looking couple in a bottle with an Eden-like background.

If these works are nostalgic and sad, others seem more cheerful, or at least colorful. Among them are “Camelia,” by Anita Guerra, and Rosario “Chary” Castro-Maria’s “Sonando con Melones” which shows watermelons cut open in several ways to reveal their blood-red fruit and seeds.

Several works in “women.embodied” were shown at Sangre de Cristo in 2009 in “I Do, I Do,” an exhibit of conceptual wedding gowns by Latina artists from Florida. Yovani Bauta, the women’s instructor at Miami Dade College, is one of the founders of the CAFE artists group.

Herrera, the guest curator, is co-director of women and ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and is the author of books about expatriate Cubans, including “Cuban Artists Across the Diaspora: Setting the Tent Against the House” and the novel, “The Pearl of the Antilles.” Many of the women she interviewed for “Cuban Artists” are in the “women.embodied” exhibit.

A free public reception for the summer exhibits at Sangre de Cristo, including “women.embodied,” will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Sept. 10 in the Helen T. White Galleries.

Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is charged. For more information, call 295-7200 or go to www.sdc-arts.org.

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