Room to Show

Four Cuban-American women get their due at the Frost

In 1928, Virginia Woolf delivered a pair of public speeches at Cambridge University where she argued that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

The contents of her lectures were published in A Room of One's Own, whose thesis states there was no extant body of great women's literature because in the past women did not have the education, the privacy, the income, or the time to write.

The author challenged women to acquire for themselves the intellectual freedom that economic self-sufficiency would provide and to create a women's literature that, metaphorically, would also occupy a room of its own.

Closeup of Maria Martinez-Cañas's Room for Eden (To 
Ana)
Closeup of Maria Martinez-Cañas's Room for Eden (To Ana)

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Through December 10
Frost Art Museum, FIU University Park Campus, SW 107th Avenue and 8th Street, Miami; 305-348-2890

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An exhibit featuring the artwork of four Cuban-American women at the Frost Museum directly references the title of Woolf's groundbreaking essay and examines notions of patronage, space, and its accessibility to artists.

Smartly curated by Elizabeth Cerejido, "A Room of One's Own" isolates major large-scale works by Teresita Fernandez, Maria Elena Gonzalez, Quisqueya Henriquez, and Maria Martinez-Cañas — all Cintas Foundation fellows — in individual spaces at the museum. The Frost has housed, archived, and maintained the Cintas Foundation Fellowship Collection for more than a decade and exhibits the work of its fellows every two years.

Established with funds from the estate of the late Oscar B. Cintas, philanthropist and former Cuban ambassador to the United States, the foundation was created to support artists of Cuban descent who found themselves living and working outside Cuba.

In addition to Cintas grants, the four artists in the exhibit have all been recipients of awards enabling them to develop ambitious projects that would otherwise be impossible to embark on. Fernandez has received the MacArthur Fellowship, Gonzalez a Guggenheim Fellowship, Martinez-Cañas a photography fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and Henriquez a South Florida Cultural Consortium Visual and Media Artists Fellowship.

At the entrance of the exhibit, Henriquez's El Mundo de Afuera (The World Outside) is a digital video diary of life outside her home in Santo Domingo captured over the course of a year. The artist positioned a video camera on her balcony during the period, shifting the lens from time to time. The result is a poetically edited 46-minute epic that fuses the casual lyricism of people going about their daily lives with the sounds of car alarms screeching, waves crashing, thunder clapping, and marching bands blaring in a way that hints at the urban cult of surveillance.

The video is highly entertaining and cinematic in nature. In one scene, a woman sweeps the street in front of her home. Another shot shows a man carting a load of bananas in his horse-drawn wagon. The video continues to unfold, revealing scene after scene: Swarms of helicopters buzz through the sky like dragonflies. A noisy squadron of planes flies in formation as if in a scene from King Kong. A bare-chested, wasp-waisted boy admires himself in a mirror and then exercises with barbells made from concrete poured into buckets. Barefoot children are caught playing a rooftop version of soccer. Illuminated by street lights, a rat nimbly navigates a power line, and then an extravagant barrage of fireworks tears up the night sky.

Although Henriquez left the camera's tripod static, she seems to have focused the lens on scenes that caught her eye on occasion, such as a litter of puppies drinking water from a pan in an alley and the shit they left behind.

Henriquez's film is intriguingly ambiguous, and the world outside her window at once moving and banal, but she conveys the heartbeat of the city where she resides by bringing its essence into the museum space through a compelling marriage of jumpy narrative and textured sound that leaves viewers glued to their seats throughout.

In another room, Gonzalez's Mi Casa No Es Tu Casa is an imposing sculpture of a house within a house that dwarfs the spectator and seems shoe-horned into the space.

The interior structure is red and shaped like a huge dog house; its walls feature an opening cut with a serrated saw blade to form the silhouette of a spiked wheel, alluding to the instrument used to torture Saint Catherine.

The outer structure is made of a transparent industrial material and resembles an elongated tool shed. Both structures are sealed and, according to the artist, are informed by shrines containing saints' relics found in churches. Gonzalez has been exploring issues of identity, memory, and domesticity in her work and upends the concept of "my house is your house" in her shuttered sculpture by keeping her house private and off-limits to spectators.

In her room, Fernandez's Vermillion Landscape flirts with the senses and splits the space with a wall, created from twelve-inch Plexiglas cubes stacked six feet high and ten feet across, that when walked around gives the sense of watching colors change in a mood ring.

The cubes, which have been printed front and back with manipulated photographs, create an atmospheric illusion as if one were watching a weather forecast's Doppler radar. The unusual sculpture also conveys the impression that the cubes are filled with liquid. From a distance, the sculpture's surface images possess a three-dimensional quality and could be read as a landscape painting, with deep azure blues, vermillion reds, and flickering yellows, suggesting a volcanic eruption on a remote island.

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