Exodus Alternate Documents
Centro Cultural Español de Miami (CCEMiami) | Oct-Nov., 2014
Exodus, Emigration, and the Recovery of Collective Memory
By Adriana Herrera and Willy Castellanos
Exodus: Alternate Documents, is a project of reflection on the phenomenon of emigration and large human displacements. The proposal of the Aluna Curatorial Collective (Adriana Herrera and Willy Castellanos), is part of the creation of an interactive space that breaks the limits of documentary record, transforming it into an open exercise for the recovery of collective memory. This exercise involved the participation of the Cuban immigrant community in Miami, as well as of the protagonists of the 1994 “Exodus of the Rafters.”
Between August and September of 1994— in what constituted one of the most dramatic episodes in contemporary Cuban history—more than 35,000 Cubans embarked for the United States in precarious boats built with their own limited resources. Designed as a laboratory or a relational workspace that combined artistic and documentary practices, Exodus: Alternate Documents aimed to create a new type of information—content alternative to the original document—that was capable of opening new and unpublished routes to redirect the traditional story about the Crisis of the Rafters in Cuba. The exhibition involved the active participation of the public. The testimonies, memories, and life stories of the participants of the exodus were recorded through various installations and events in order to reconstruct a lost page of history.
Photographs, participatory installations, and video projections made up this exhibition, which was also a tribute on the twentieth anniversary of the crisis to all those who, in the most diverse latitudes of the world, embark every day on the uncertain path of emigration. A video booth was set up to film the testimonies of those interested in the reconstruction of the event from their own experiences. In addition, calls for submissions and other public events were organized. The materials collected during the days of the exhibition will be used for the production of new dialogues on the subject and remain in Aluna Art Foundation’s archives at the disposal of creators and interested institutions.
Exodus: Alternate Documents takes as its starting point the presentation of first-hand historical material: a collection of 80 photographs taken by Willy Castellanos on the coast of Havana during the events that led to the “Exodus of the Rafters” in 1994. Unlike other images published by the international media, Castellanos' photographs record the departures on the coasts of Havana and could well be presented, given their testimonial and aesthetic value, as an exhibition per se. But the artist also displays acoustic installations such as Dry-Feet-Wet-Feet, documentary videos, and participatory works such as Cabina, Album, Requiem, and Water, proposing them as bridges to new content that is not implicit in the stories of the 1994 photographic record. The videos presented included stories and interviews filmed recently, both in Havana and Miami, and make up two complementary thematic segments of the exhibition: On the Quest to Find Those Photographed in 1994, and Memories of the Crossing.
Additionally, suggestive installations were presented by two Cuban-American guest artists: Juan-Sí González and Coco Fusco. González works with different media, from photography and installation to video and performance. His installation Rosa Náutica is made up of a salt screen onto which is projected a selection of videos of the empty rafts found adrift in those tragic days of 1994. Coco Fusco is an essayist, curator, and interdisciplinary artist. Her installation Y el mar te hablará (“And the Sea Will Speak to You”) invites the audience to share an unusual physical and emotional experience: the experience of traveling from Cuba by sea. Participants were invited to leave all their possessions (wallets, money, phones, watches etc.) before entering the dark theater. Traditional seats were replaced by inflated rubbers, the same ones that rafters usually use on their boats.
Exodus: Alternate Documents was a joint effort of the Spanish Cultural Center of Miami (CCEMiami) and Aluna Art Foundation, with the collaboration of the Cuban Museum Miami and its “Sweet Home” program (Knight Foundation). The event was supported by El Nuevo Herald, The Miami Herald, and The Cuban Research Institute (FIU), and received the award for the Best Cultural Event of the Year, granted by the Arts Miami Foundation.
Exodus: Alternate Documents
Guest artists: Juan-Sí González and Coco Fusco
A communitarian and interactive Project curated by Aluna Curatorial Collective (Adriana Herrera and Willy Castellanos).
From September 12th to August 31st, 2014
Centro Cultural Español de Miami (CCEMiami)
Dry Feet/Wet Feet (Installation), 2014
Documentary audio record of a group of “Balseros” (rafters) living Cuba in August 1994 | Courtesy of Caiman Productions
Dry Feet/Wet Feet, 2014
Installation with sound, 28’ L x 9’ H| Photos printed on fabric, acrylic boxes, water, sand, steel wires and industrial tensioners. Documentary audio record of a group of Rafters living the island, courtesy of Caiman Productions.
The “Wet Feet/Dry Feet policy” is the name given to a consequence of the 1995 revision of the “Cuban Adjustment Act” of 1966, that essentially says that anyone who fled Cuba and got into the United States would be allowed to pursue residency a year later. After talks with the Cuban government, the Clinton administration came to an agreement with Cuba that it would stop admitting people found at sea. Since then, in what has become known as the "Wet Feet/Dry Feet policy, a Cuban caught on the waters between the two nations (with "wet feet") would summarily be sent home or to a third country. One who makes it to shore ("dry feet") gets a chance to remain in the United States, and later would qualify for expedited "legal permanent resident" status and eventually U.S. citizenship.
From 1995 to January 2017 (year in which it was revoked), this law regulated the arrival of all those Cubans who jump into the sea in precarious boats, in what constitutes a regional tragedy that also affects thousands of Haitian and Dominican citizens.