Which artwork is the most meaningful to you?
Terrestrial Bodies (2019) organizes the artist’s collection of porcelain vases, wooden carved figurines, brass goblets, and teacups chronologically along a timeline of her mother’s genetic ancestry. Utilizing the strategies of anthropological research, the installation presents an institutional, social, and commercial history of colonization. The timeline, stretching from 1660-1900, roots the artist’s family heritage at the crossroads between Africa, Asia, and the Americas, putting the ancestry of Black and Brown populations in parallel with the history of trade and globalization.
Within the work, the objects create links between global trade, the trans-Atlantic slave trade routes, and the rise of the social classes in the American Colonies. It notes the economic chain of activities provided by women who purchased these domestic wares to be used by their family. At the same time acting as signs of upward mobility within the social classes in the colonies especially for the growing Mestizo class. The China Trade and subsequently European companies profited largely by the surge of resources generated by settlers in the Americas and the Caribbean colonies adding economic force to the triangular trade.The cyanotypes depict the bottoms of the porcelain objects in reference to the global trade and its historical transportation of goods by sea. The prints create an image of cargo lost in the Atlantic Ocean. By picturing the bases of various ceramic objects with the cyanotype process, the prints engage the question of identity with the intersection of trade, labor markets, and cultural genocide in the colonial past and present. Moreover, the sensation of looking at sinking cargo activates the viewer’s subjectivity in relation to the men and women who died during the Middle Passage.
Is there a piece that signifies a breakthrough for you?
Rest Ashore (2020) reexamines the Cuban migration experience over the past sixty years and how it relates to the current global refugee crisis. The installation explores similarities in how the refugee crisis has been documented and disseminated in mass media throughout the years, both past and present, while creating a new visual vernacular honoring those who died at sea. Rest Ashore also marks a significant expansion into video and a dramatic shift in my artistic process.Rest Ashore, 2020 (Vimeo clip 2:42 min.) 4K video, 12 min. (loop)Director and Producer: Juana ValdésCinematographer and DP: Lee BurghardEditor: Setty McIntoshAssistant Editor, Sound Editor, Mix Engineer, Sound Design, and Composer: Onel Mulet
Which artwork makes you the most proud?
The Colored China Rags (2017) create formal relationships between rags used by cleaning women to the suppleness of a woman’s body and the range of skin tones that exist in ethnically mixed communities. The series resulted from a series of powder pigments skin tone recipes added prior to firing the casts, thereby manipulating its chemical composition and changing its form. The intention of these artworks is to question the mythology of whiteness as pure in comparison to the history of bone china and notions of Mestizaje in the Caribbean.
Which of your artworks reminds you of your youth or where you’re from?
My Inheritance (Las chancletas de Cecilia Valdés) (1998) references the complex history of slavery in Cuba and the Caribbean through the politics of patrimony and exile. The text from this work comes from Reinaldo Arenas’s novel, La Loma del Angel (1987), a satire of Cirilo Villaverde’s book, Cecilia Valdés (1839), that emphasizes the cyclical repetition of life.
Both authors died in exile in New York where the artist was also defining who she was in New York in relation to the island, political oppression, race, gender, and exile.