Leslie Herod, Coco Fusco, and Becky Hart

Contemporary Art: Coco Fusco Talks Cuba Past & Present

Through a multi-media approach, artist and scholar Coco Fusco delves into race, gender, and violence in her contemporary art. Her artwork utilizes various types of performance and often combines large-scale projections, live internet streams, and audience interaction. She joined DAM Contemporaries (DAMC) and Biennial of the Americas September 15 for a Logan Lecture as part of the 2017 series: 10 Years of Artists on Art.

Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod noted in her opening remarks, that Coco Fusco has recently focused her artistic efforts on her Cuban heritage. Sharing a recent video work that concentrates on Cuba after the fall of the Soviet regime, Fusco discussed Cuba then and now, the quotidian reality and the government façade.

In her video, La botella al mar de María Elena (The Message in a Bottle from María Elena), Fusco looks at the economic, political, and ideological turmoil in Cuba in the early 1990s and asks: how does this period define the social history of Cuba today? As a self-described “avid consumer” of the new media flowing out of Cuba since Raul Castro established reforms in 2008, Fusco drew inspiration for La botella from these muted Cuban narratives, the stories that attempt to reclaim recent histories erased by the government.

Fusco’s video combines contemporary views of Havana street life with historic photographs and news broadcasts following the collapse of Communist Russia; a first-person voiceover provides a poetic narrative that ties the past to the present. The footage sets the stage for the essence of the narrative: an interview with Maria Elena Cruz Varela, the poet and political activist. Fusco considers the revolutionary activities of Maria Elena’s group, Critirio Alternativo (Alternative Criteria), and treats Cuban political history as a key to understanding contemporary social reality.

Fusco sees a direct connection between the activists on the ground in the 1990s and the media that started to filter out of Cuba in 2008. And, as Fusco mentioned in her lecture: the Cuban government treats media more leniently now than in 1991, but, while filming in Cuba in 2015, she had to take precautions to avoid seizure of any of her equipment or materials. Even as artists like Coco Fusco and poets like Maria Elena reveal more of Cuba’s undocumented history to the free world, internal blocks and censorship still remain and continue to hinder a wider dissemination of the everyday social realities of life in Cuba.

Image: Leslie Herod and Coco Fusco with Rebecca Hart

Katherine Uhlir has been writing for DAM Contemporaries since March 2017. Her favorite Denver Art Museum exhibitions to date are Shade: Clyfford Still/Mark Bradford and Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective.