A Conversation with Edra Soto’s GRAFT (Cuba)

Installation view of Edra Soto’s  GRAFT (Cuba)  in  Cross Currents/Intercambio Cultural  at the Smart Museum of Art.. Photo by Michael Tropea.

Installation view of Edra Soto’s GRAFT (Cuba) in Cross Currents/Intercambio Cultural at the Smart Museum of Art.. Photo by Michael Tropea.

Cross Currents / Intercambio Cultural, on view at the Smart Museum of Art through August 18, 2019, explores how issues of Latin American and Latino/a identity and place are manifest in the practices of artists working in Chicago and Havana at a moment of social change and strained political relations between the United States and Cuba.

Spencer Diaz Tootle

Spencer Diaz Tootle

The exhibition is the result of an artist exchange organized by the National Museum of Mexican Art, in which six Chicago-based artists visited Havana in spring 2017 and six Cuban artists visited Chicago in fall 2017 and summer 2018. The work on view reflects the artists’ experiences and observations as they interacted with each other, curators, cultural spaces, and neighborhoods during their trips.

Local poet and actor Spencer Diaz Tootle visited the exhibition and, in response, wrote a poem about artist Edra Soto’s work GRAFT (Cuba). “As an American of Cuban descent who has yet to step onto the island of my grandparents, the entire exhibit was alluring and moving for me,” Tootle says. Her poem, A Conversation with Edra Soto’s GRAFT (Cuba), is below.


A Conversation with Edra Soto’s GRAFT (Cuba)
by Spencer Diaz Tootle

I am of the Cuba that is picket lined and pockmarked,
all bruised mangoes and leather skin, weathered grins
capital S secrets tucked inside keepsake boxes, long ago slid onto shelves too high for me to reach
Maria del Carmen’s vanity lined with dusty vials of agua de violeta 
whispers of croquetas wafting, 
me waking, 
hungry for a dream I can’t remember
the phantom flavors, family recipes scrawled in a language which my stubborn tongue splinters, 
the salt and sea glass shattering against my unrolled rr’s
Cuba
I am of 
la cultura de fantasmas 
the dysphoric diaspora 
the put the Diaz back in my name for Alejandro’s sake
Cuba
the I’ve only seen the island’s lights from the tip of Key West
Cuba
the MAC made a lip color called Havana so I bought it even tho it makes my teeth look yellow 
Cuba
I am of the red star
Cuba
I am of the propaganda
Cuba
I am of the Marielitos and the Balseros and the wet feet and the fleet of dolphins saving Elián’s life
(but not his mother’s)
Cuba
I am of the peepholes and the sinking truths and the unmarked graves 
Cuba
I am of the Cuba that is a wall of lace, 
a shroud between life and life
the threads tangled so tightly that I can’t unknot them
the eyelets so small that I can’t see through them
the pressing my face, my lips, my ears, my heart against a plywood structure 
in a sterile museum
until I become the art 
Cuba


Cross Currents / Intercambio Cultural is on view through August 18 at the Smart Museum of Art. For more information, visit the Smart’s website.