Yali Romagoza is a performance artist and art historian, trained in Havana and Chicago. She performs regularly in New York. By assuming the role of Cuquita - The Cuban Doll she contributes to deal with the condition of Latina women in the United States.
How is your work related to the art of Ana Mendieta?
The visual result of Ana Mendieta's work and mine is very different, but I think we both encourage viewers to confront stereotypes, assumptions, prejudices and injustices, especially about women, and to build a space for inclusion. In my case I invented an alter-ego, Cuquita La Muñeca Cubana, she is my refuge and my armor. Through her I claim the visibility of the Latina artist in the diaspora that is not represented in its diversity in the dominant culture.
Ana Mendieta has always been one of my great idols. When I lived in Cuba, Ana Mendieta symbolized the maximum expression of freedom of the female body. I admired her as an icon of feminism. She gave me hope that my work could one day have the international recognition that she achieved. But after living in the United States for almost 10 years, my connection with Ana Mendieta's work is deeper. The work I have been producing is part of an experience shared with Ana. The experience of being a female immigrant in a society that is hostile to foreigners, especially foreigners who come from Latin America. The effects of migration - loneliness, isolation and the effects of political trauma on the individual lasts a lifetime. The feeling of not belonging to neither American society nor Cuban society, living in that conflictive space between cultures. The pain of having left everything and the sacrifice of starting again. Ana took refuge in her body and the earth and nature, looking for a space where to feel safe, feel protected, looking for a place where she could belong and be able to heal.
What relationship do you have with the Cuba of this and the other side?
My parents live in Cuba, as do most of my family. I travel to Cuba whenever I can, depending on my financial possibilities. The Cuban government ensures that those who live abroad spend a lot of money on procedures and permissions every time we visit the island. Beyond my family relationship, I have no other relationship with Cuba within Cuba. Cubans who leave Cuba disappear from the collective memory of Cubans living on the island, as if we had died or as if we had stopped being Cubans and become "Americans", this is how I feel it. In the context of art in Cuba there is a historical disconnect between Cubans living within Cuba and those in the diaspora. Of course the Cuban government and its policy contributes to this happening, but also the art system of North American and European institutions are responsible for this disconnection. North American and European institutions still hold the vision of a conqueror by looking for a supposedly authentic art produced in Cuba. This leads to the phenomenon that non-Cuba-based independent art initiatives not directed by the State but developed by artists, curators and critics within the island in very few occasions include within their projects Cuban artists in the diaspora seeking to attract that market.
There is no global vision of Cuban art. There are many Cuban artists around the world doing interesting art. Though we who live abroad do often not know each other, I think that in the near future it will be impossible to continue ignoring us and there will be good projects that establish a dialogue.
With the Cuban community outside of Cuba I find myself in a continuous exchange with the curator, critic and artist Alexis Mendoza, the writer and critic Carlos Aguilera, the curator, researcher and critic Aldeide Delgado Puebla. Elvia Rosa Castro and Gretel Acosta as curators included my work in an exhibition entitled Cubans: Post Truth, Pleasure, and Pain that they presented at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA), North Carolina. The exhibition examines contemporary Cuban artists, both within the island and in the diaspora. For the Cuban exile, that is largely in Miami, my work does not meet their expectations since it is neither overtly political nor apolitical.
My work is not accommodating or cute, it is strange. I went to live in New York looking for a multicultural context more or less inclusive. At the same time I am open to participate in projects inside or outside Cuba whenever it is something interesting.
How does the character of Cuquita The Cuban Doll allow you to transgress an imposed identity?
Cuquita La Muñeca Cubana is the result of years of research on how to transgress conventional notions of feminine beauty and how to escape from myself, added to the need to address misogynistic and racist stereotypes that especially affect Latinas in the United States. I have never felt comfortable with myself, so fantasizing about being “others” has been a concept that I constantly research and reinvent. I have always toyed with the idea of transforming myself. As a child I dressed in my mom and grandmother's clothes, I put on makeup pretending to be different people at the same time. The act of disguising my body, disappearing and becoming "others" freed me from assumptions about race, country of origin or cultural identity. Cuquita La Muñeca Cubana has found the visibility and acceptance that I have never experienced, neither as a person nor as an artist.
Meditating my way out of Capitalism and Communism. 12410 days of Isolation, performance presented in October 2018 at the Festival Art in Odd Places, NY.
Cuquita The Cuban Doll live through Instagram on May 7th at The Immigrant Artists Biennial through Virtual Studio Visits.