Luis Cruz Azaceta has become known for his arresting works that explore the exile experience with a profound sense of loss, angst, and isolation. We recently caught up with the Cuban-American artist, who lives in New Orleans, and has returned to Miami for "Trajectories/Trayectorias," at Pan American Art Projects in Wynwood, his first local solo show here since 2007. He told us why he admires stand-up comics, what he thinks about the Arizona immigration law, and how he makes art out of the detritus left by Hurricane Katrina.
New Times: It's been 50 years since you left your homeland, and the
immigrant experience is an important part of your work. How do you feel
about the Arizona Immigration Law, the fact that other states are
considering adopting versions of it, and the potential impact this type
of legislation can have on our civil liberties?
Luis Cruz Azaceta: I've made works over the years dealing with
aliens and border experience. My focus has been on the suffering and
inhumanity one feels as an alien. My work usually doesn't point the
finger to the aggressor. I'm much more compelled to concentrate on
those who don't have a voice. There could be endless debates on the
U.S. position, Mexican government, etc., but meanwhile people continue
In your work, political undertones are often distinct yet you
seem to temper your views with an impish sense of humor. For example, you've painted refugees in flying saucers to skewer the fear of illegal
aliens. Do you employ humor to ease the sting of your social commentary?
Humor is a very good medium to address certain issues. I use it to
confront reality. I'm a great admirer of American stand-up
comics, making you laugh while addressing social-political issues.
We recently visited NOLA and hit the art scene in your adopted hometown
during "White Linen Night." It was amazing to see tens of thousands of
people decked out for the occasion during a gathering that reminded one
of Art Basel. How do you compare the public support of the arts in New
Orleans to Miami?
Yes, White Linen Night and Art for Art's Sake are well attended by
locals and it's exciting and good for the art community, but it can't
compare to Art Basel. Miami/Basel is international in scope. I think
the closest thing we had to Miami/Basel may have been Prospect 1-which
was an international biennial that included 81 artists from 35
countries. I was one of the artists representing New Orleans. It was
exciting and definitely gave a major boost to the art community
here--many curators, directors and artists from abroad attended. Prospect will continue this November with Prospect 1.5 and next year with Prospect 2.
Some of the work you have on view at Pan American deals with the post-Katrina meltdown and the BP oil spill in the Gulf. Can you tell us about
how the Crescent City is informing your recent work?
When I first moved to New Orleans, I took photographs and included them
in works. It was a way of visually acclimating myself with the city. I
was drawn to the distressed neighborhoods -- I found poetry there. I
loved the juxtaposition of things that didn't belong. ways of rigging up
broken things which seemed inventive and engaging.
An early photo
construction called LOVE/CROSS, shows a blue shotgun house with a two-stroke white painted cross running vertically down the front door. The
broken window has been quickly fixed with a broken piece of plywood that
has the word - LOVE- painted in black on it. The construction is
covered with multiple copies of this photo. The repeated photo creates a
pattern that I then attached a large chain atop.
Post Katrina, I started dealing with the incongruities that
Katrina left behind. I assembled broken objects together. The
construction called TWO TOWERS refers to 9/11, but it resonates with the
fragility of wood taken from old New Orleans houses. So, the decaying
aspect of the city, the inventiveness of dealing with little, and the
warm, unexpected color combinations of the shotgun shacks have informed
You have been away from the Miami scene for a while. Does coming back here stir up memories of Cuba?
I had a solo show there in 2007 and I try to visit every year for Miami
Basel. I love to be in Miami -- it gives me a friendly, warm feeling of
belonging: good artist friends, great Cuban food, and wonderful