Juana Valdés was one of the most powerful Latinx artists of 2020. During the year, she presented a major immersive installation at the Miami art space Locust Projects. Her work was featured in the new, groundbreaking book Latinx Art: Artists, Markets and Politics by Arlene Davila. And she received the prestigious prize Anonymous Was A Woman, which has been awarded to outstanding artists such as Amy Sherald, Deborah Roberts and María Magdalena Campos-Pons, among others. Born in Pinar del Río, Cuba, Juana Valdés lives and works between Miami and New York.
C&AL: In your work, you reflect on migration as a result of your personal experience, specifically about the dynamics of family exile in Miami. You have described this period as “living on the edge of the edge”. What do you mean by this expression?
Juana Valdés: When we arrived as a family in Miami in 1971, it was and still remains today a city with segregated neighborhoods by race, ethnicity and class. We couldn’t live in the same predominantly white neighborhoods that most other Cuban families moved into. We ended up living at the edge of a white neighborhood, on the boundary of the racially mixed communities of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and a few African-Americans. While we benefited from the government’s services as recent refugees and immigrants, we still suffered the same kind of discrimination affecting African-Americans in terms of housing, good-paying jobs and mobility. It left me with a sensation of not belonging to either community – an outsider in both cultures negotiating daily interactions.
My recent work focuses on migration because I see it as one of the most significant issues of the 21th century. 79.5 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2019. I recently heard on the news that Venezuela would soon replace Syria with the largest number of displaced people. And it is not just countries in war or political conflict. The future will bring climate change refugees, as it already happened with hurricane Katrina.