Coco Fusco (b. 1960, United States) lives and works in New York. She is an interdisciplinary artist and writer who combines electronic media and performance. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship (2013), the Absolut Art Writing Award (2013), a Fulbright Fellowship (2013), a US Artists Fellowship (2012), and the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts (2003). Fusco’s performances and videos have recently been presented in the Venice Biennale (2015) and the Whitney Biennial, New York (2008 and 1993), and she has exhibited at the Tate Liverpool; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona.
La Botella al Mar de María Elena, 2015
Video, 44 min
Courtesy of the artist; Alexander Gray Associates, New York; and produced in collaboration with GIBCA.
Coco Fusco’s new video, La Botella al Mar de María Elena (The Message in a Bottle from Maria Elena), is based on the true story of a Cuban poet who wrote a public letter to Fidel Castro asking for democratic reforms. This was a highly unusual gesture and has become the stuff of legend outside of Cuba, yet there is no public record of the letter or the reaction it caused. The poet in question, María Elena Cruz Varela, penned the letter in 1991. It was signed by ten Cuban intellectuals and published internationally. The letter spoke of the critical situation that Cuba faced during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the imminent disappearance of aid from Eastern Europe. The proposed reforms were moderate – there was no call to end the revolution or remove Castro from power.
However, the response from the state was highly aggressive. The poet was arrested and dragged out of her house by her hair while being taunted by a crowd of government supporters. Two Cuban filmmakers who tried to document the arrest were caught and also arrested. Cruz Varela, the filmmakers, and most of the others who signed the letter were sent to prison. This call for reform from within the country, which came from artists and intellectuals raised within the Revolution, prefigured the efforts of activists in the present speaking out as Cuba hovers at the brink of a political transition. In Fusco’s video, she returns to the scene of the arrest to retell the story from the point of view of the victims and the victimizers.
La bottela al Mar de María Elena (2015), Installation view Röda Sten Konsthall, GIBCA 2015. Photo: Hendrik Zeitler