Interview with the Artist

Photo of Anaida Hernandez

Lehman College Art Gallery Interview with Anaida Hernandez
Hasta que la muerte nos separe (Til Death Do Us Part)

(Continued)

Susan Hoeltzel: Some of this information becomes a part of the images?

Anaida HernĚndez: Some, you can see--pistols, scissors, knives. The center of the piece is a fragmented figure--the fragmented body. I used the metaphor of the fragmentation of the body--legs, hands, mouth, ears--as a metaphor for the fragmentation of the family. The death of women usually represents a devastating experience for the whole family. The family vanishes.

I also used the metaphor of the cemetery and the niches in the cemeteries. Some of the boxes have comments, some of them have numbers, police record numbers. The numbers are usually case numbers, they are complaint numbers. The top row has a motto, three words: dreams, love, and passions. I put these words in clouds. These are the dreams that never came true--the loves and passions that were never fulfilled.

Susan Hoeltzel: This is also a theme that crops up in your work dealing with immigration too--people who had dreams that were never fulfilled. You mentioned that your idea for the work had begun in the cemetery in Loiza.

Anaida HernĚndez: The way I artistically thought about the installation was to work with crosses. Then an artist friend of mine was visiting Puerto Rico. I took him to the Loiza cemetery, where you were Susan. He wanted to visit the cemetery because a very famous Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos was buried there. The Rio Grande, the river that goes by it, was flooded, so it flooded the whole cemetery. The dead bodies were outside floating around and lots of crosses floating as well. I decided that that was a good idea to use the crosses and I started doing my installation with them. Later I saw the niches and thought that the niches would be a better way to pay tribute to the women. I worked on it for a year and a half.

Susan Hoeltzel: How was the work received when it was shown in San Juan and other places?

Anaida HernĚndez: The first place that it was shown was in the Capitol of Puerto Rico in January 1994. And when I made this work, I had all the intentions of showing it in that particular place. It was developed as a site-specific installation. And I had lots of problems to actually put it over there. But finally I was able to present it.

After that, the following month it was shown in a gallery in San Juan. Between the Capitol and the private gallery, lots of people visited. And I started receiving letters from people in prison for killing their wives. Also letters from people who saw the names of their family members from the board in the newspaper. There was a photograph of the board in the newspaper. And then they started to tell me the particular stories of some of these women. I also got phone calls from people in prison.

Then when I was in Cuba, people who were in the government said that the problem didn't exist. That it was eradicated after the revolution. In Cuba men and women had exactly the same rights, but then I found out that it wasn't like that. A group of about 15 women came and visited me when the installation was there. And they wanted to talk to me in a very private manner.

They started telling me how close they felt when they saw this installation that they couldn't really mention that a situation like that happened in Cuba. I received lots of reactions from the people in Cuba while I was there. There was even one woman who came and picked up her shirt and she started showing me all the scars from knives that she had on her body. It was incredible.

These are the dreams that never came true - the loves and passion that were never fulfulledWhen I was showing this piece in Costa Rica, they were signing a law against domestic violence in San Jos╚. They used as a model the law in Puerto Rico. There was a whole issue going on that week especially because of the signing of the law. It was a little bit different than the one in Puerto Rico. Costa Rica and Puerto Rico seem to be very similar in terms of the population and the percentages of deaths relating to domestic violence.

In the Cayman Islands when I was giving a talk about my work, the person who organized the exhibit thought that not too many were going to show up. It was very common that during these talks or conferences not too many people show up.

That day there were about 70 women visiting the conference. Women started standing up and telling their stories about what their situations were. On the first page of the newspaper they started talking about the issue, about the piece, about the situation in the Cayman Islands. Around a week after I stayed there, all these things started happening. The police in Cayman started receiving training on how to identify cases on domestic violence.

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