In July of 2006, I traveled to Cuba with my mother and aunt, both of them Cuban exiles. I had never been to Cuba before, my aunt had not been back in six years and my mother was last there in 1979. The experience was one of anxiety, sadness, hope, fulfillment, and love. Like most Cuban-Americans, my mother was waiting for the day Castro was no longer in power to return. It was only when my abuela, her mother, had a few strokes that she decided to file the paperwork for us to visit. Unfortunately, within a month of us beginning the legal process to receive our visas my abuela passed. In the end, it took us five months before we began that forty-five minute flight from Miami to La Habana, Cuba. This short flight pronounced just how physically close Cuba is to the United States. The question became, who or what has been stopping us?
The work, 90 miles, explores the issues of restriction, separation, and prohibition in conjunction with the frustration and desire that it creates in the oppressed. The title, 90 Miles, is a reference to the southern most public spot of the United States in Key West, Florida. At this point a large buoy stands as a marker and reads “90 Miles to Cuba.” As the closest geographical point to Cuba, this location has become a popular spot for Cuban-Americans to visit. Some believe that they can see Cuba on a clear day, although its mathematically impossible due to the curvature of the Earth. What it represents is that longing for a forbidden land and the desire to feel a connection to a place. As a daughter of a Cuban exile, I understand the power of this one spot. Through a layering, animating, and projecting of over 400 still images photographed at this spot, along with audio (recorded stories about Cuba from Cuban-Americans), 90 Miles recreates the feeling of this poignant landmark in the United States, never allowing the viewer to truly confront the images. Useless barriers are created with tape on the floor in front of the projections. Also for some, there is a language barrier, listening to stories in a language they do not comprehend (whether it is Spanish or English). The audio is split into three separate sources, one set of speakers with bits of stories coming in and out, another set with sounds from the ocean, and a Blanca Rosa Gil album looping on a record player in the corner of the room. Ultimately, 90 Miles is about the limitations we put on ourselves, what we hold ourselves back from, and the fantasies we can create when we convince ourselves that something is out of our reach.
This work was first shown in April of 2007 for my MFA thesis exhibition (see slideshow below). It later was in a group exhibit curated by Evan Garza called “Hecho A Mano” at the Casa de la Cultura/Center for Latino Arts in Boston. Read more about that exhibit here.