Juana Valdés: Embodied Memories, Ancestral Histories
October 22, 2023 – February 11, 2024
For 30 years, Juana Valdés (b. Cuba, 1963) has transformed ideas, thoughts, and feelings into works of art anchored in stories, many of which are inspired by her personal experiences. The exhibition title, Embodied Memories, Ancestral Histories, encompasses many concepts and complexities. Beginning with Un saco para el Viejo (A Coat for the Old Man, 1993), a suit made from burlap by her mother, the artist addresses her Caribbean identity and introduces two recurrent aspects in her work: her Cuban roots and her African ancestry. With this installation as the prologue, the story Valdés tells unravels as the visitor moves through the galleries and becomes acquainted with three main topics that are not necessarily exclusive: “The History of Migration,” “Representation and Subjectivity,” and “Materiality.”
Since the mid-1990s, Valdés has been interested in history, especially in narratives related to her Afro-Cuban heritage. Through many of the works featured in the exhibition, she has generated a voice and a discourse inspired by themes such as colonization’s history and migration’s impact. Another significant theme is the issue of gender and the representation of the feminine body. Through several works, notably the installation Sweet Honesty-Tender Pink (1997), Valdés invites the public to reflect on the objectification of the female body and the “whitening of race” as a legacy of colonialism. Race is a connecting thread that links the different sections of the exhibition, an issue that she addresses from her experience as a woman of color living in the United States.
Her choice of materials is as important as the themes she conveys. Working in a range of both traditional and non-traditional media—from ceramics, with all its associations of feminine and manual work, to new-media—Valdés communicates ideas of the personal and subjective while at the same time challenging the canon of art. Her audiovisual work highlights her entire oeuvre as an archive through which she analyzes and recodifies topics that include transnationalism, migration, race, gender, and discrimination at work, and the Latinx discourse she deals with from her experience as an Afro-Cuban woman residing in the United States.
Juana Valdés lives and works in Amherst, MA; New York, NY; and Miami, FL.
This exhibition is organized by Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College of Art and Design and curated by Francine Birbragher-Rozencwaig, Ph.D., independent curator.
This exhibition is made possible, in part, with generous support from:
Shari and John Hicks
Ellen Chapman and Michael Moss