Public Art Proposal
50,000 glowsticks & water bottles
Hobie Beach -Key Biscayne, FL
An ephemeral piece in honor of the 50,000 estimated lives lost by Cuban rafters trying to make it to freedom.
2005 PROJECT PROPOSAL:
Freedom -a word used frequently, yet many of us take it for granted. I could not imagine living in a place where everything was controlled by the government. For the past 46 years there has been no freedom in Cuba. The 11.3 million citizens are held in their country like prisoners and are not allowed to leave the island. If caught trying to leave they may be thrown in jail for up to 10 years. The people of Cuba cannot say what they wish, nor can they do what they like. Everything is monitored by the Castro Regime. However, in the United States I have control over my own words and actions. I can choose what I want to eat, where I want to work, what I want to study, where I want to study, what kind of career I would like, who I choose to communicate with, and where I want to live. But none of these basic freedoms exist in Cuba. Something as simple as receiving a letter from a relative is searched before it gets into your own hands.
The Cuban government also forbids freedom of speech. If you say anything against the government there is a penalty of death. There are no newspapers (there is only an official government newsletter), overseas television and radio signals are blocked out, telephone conversations are monitored, food and medicine is rationed and barely enough to last for the month, and at the age of 7- children are taken away their right to drink milk. The government takes 30% of whatever money relatives in the U.S. send to their families. The average salary for a professional is $15 a month. Those who live well are those that have family in the U.S sending them U.S dollars. Those who receive the “free college education” owe the rest of their life to the government and are shipped off to other countries to spread the communist ideals. In addition, Cubans are not even allowed to use their most famous beach “Varadero.” It is strictly reserved for tourists. The “tourist only stores” have everything- while the stores for Cubans are completely empty.
Life in Cuba was nothing like this before 1959. Cuba was one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America, and its economic indexes were far superior to many countries in Europe, including Spain. It was a self-sufficient country and did not have to import food. The U.S. Embargo is not the cause for the poverty that exists there today. (Just take a look at the “Tourist Only” Sections – The Embargo has not affected those areas)
According to the 2000 Census there are: 1.2 Million people of Cuban Descent in the U.S. (60% of the population in the Miami / Ft. Lauderdale area is Cuban). Between 1959 and 1994, in defiance of the law, more than 63,000 citizens left Cuba by sea in small groups and reached the United States alive. Thousands more washed up on Caribbean shores. Over the years, they have been collectively known as balseros (rafters) and their vessels as balsas (rafts).
From 1991 through July 1994 numbers of rafters rose steadily year by year until 500 were arriving daily during the first two weeks of July 1994. Studies of the current, winds, and other important factors conclude that 75% who attempt to make it the U.S. in homemade boats – die. In an interview with U.S. News & World Report in 1994, Fidel Castro said that over a four year period (1990-1994) 51,076 had left but only 13,275 made it to the U.S. In the late 1990’s an opposition organization in Cuba began interviewing people whose family members have left and were never heard from again but the Cuban government put him in prison and confiscated his records. So no one really knows exactly how many lives have been lost. But one can say that at a minimum 18,500 Cuban rafters have died. However, the estimated death toll ranges from 55,500 - 84,600.
I am grateful that my family left Cuba before it was too late and that I have been able to grow up in a country where I have the basic right to freedom. Although criticism exists towards our own current government, the people of the United States (including myself) are so spoiled, that we have no idea how good we have it. The unbearable living conditions in Cuba have resulted in desperate attempts by men, women, and children to make it to freedom by risking their lives and enduring horrible expeditions in the vast open sea.
I have chosen to express an issue that has been extremely misunderstood by the majority of people. The people of Cuba are dying in their desperate attempts to reach freedom and nothing is being done about it. In fact, it seems as if their deaths are going by unnoticed. I feel the need re-awaken the issue to the public, and remind them that every day someone else is dieing- while we look the other way. I admire the courage of these brave souls and would like to honor them with my project.
The project is an ephemeral piece that would last for one entire night. It will consist of 55,500 floating lights along the coast, each one symbolizing the death of a Cuban rafter sacrificing their life in hopes of reaching freedom. I would like to express the uncertainty of the horrible situation and therefore have decided to use two different colors: 18,500 blue lights representing the known deaths and 37,000 white lights representing the additional estimated deaths. The color blue symbolizes: tranquility, truth, peace, and depression. White symbolizes: peace, purity, reverence, and innocence. These lights will be composed by glow sticks. Each one will be placed inside an empty plastic bottle and thrown into the ocean, similar to the idea of a “message in a bottle.” The movement of the bottles will echo the journey that the balseros rafts may have taken, moving wherever the current or waves will take them. The water bottles themselves also have a metaphorical meaning: a balsero cannot survive the 3- 9 day journey without water. However, water itself may be the one thing that also take their lives.
I am proposing to use the quiet coast of Virginia Key Beach Park in Miami, Florida. The project will be able to be seen from the beach, nearby bridges, and boats in the surrounding waters. However, the final location ultimately depends on where I can get city approval. I have contacted the necessary government authorities to see if I will be permitted to create a project like this and have been notified as to what applications need to be filled out. In most cases, I would need to submit a proposal describing how I will contain thee bottles and how I will recover them afterwards. Since it is a temporary piece, I may be exempt of needing a permit, but I will need letters of approval by each of the agencies involved with that area, including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Resources Management, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the United States Coast Guard.
Similar to what is used during an oil spill, I will be using 1,900 linear feet of a turbidity curtain or floating boom to contain the area where the bottles will be floating. I will need 7 boats and 40 people to help me activate each glow stick, place them in the bottles, and throw them in the water. I estimated that with that many people it will take 2 hours to complete that process. An additional 4 hours will be needed after completion of the project for the recovery of every single bottle. There is also the option of possibly selling the lighted bottles to individuals who attended the viewing of the project. The profit will go to a good cause or will be used to pay back any loans that I may have needed to acquire in order to accomplish the project.