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Posted on Mon, Jun. 21, 2004 URBAN LIFE

AN ARTIST WITHOUT FENCES

By Norma Niurka

nniurkaa@aol.com

At the current exhibition at Miami Art Central titled Hope and Glory: The Enduring Legacy of Oscar B. Cintas, dedicated to the five finalists of this year's Cintas Scholarship, we are struck by an installation devoted to urbanism -- rather, to criticize certain excesses of urbanism in our communities.

The 17 pieces of Home Sweet Gated Home: A Metaphor for U.S. Foreign Policy, by Magda Fernandez, bear explanatory notes written by the artist, the 47-year-old Cuban woman who lives in Boston.

Although Fernandez did not win a Cintas -- the scholarships granted by the Cintas Foundation, named after the late philanthropist Oscar B. Cintas -- the originality of her installation stands out at the MAC exhibition.

The idea for the project came to her when, concerned by the increase in gated communities -- which she considers to be occasionally discriminatory as to race, religion and social class -- she was inspired by the suburb shown by David Lynch in the movie Blue Velvet.

''I present the enclosed suburb as a microcosm of American values,'' she says. ``My goal is to create art that reflects today's culture and allows us to understand that culture in depth.''

This conceptual artist has chosen to transmit information in addition to showing her dissatisfaction with an inadequate way to resolve conflicts in the communities. She brings to her work a university education in art and political science and sends a strong social message.

``I explore the social themes that are important to me and consume me. With the installations, I attempt to learn more about the theme, to create an art work based on the results of research and to make the viewer think and reach his own conclusions.''

She works with cloth, photographs, aluminum, vinyl, even commercial gardening products.

''I am a survivor. I am willing to create with whatever resources I have at hand,'' she explains.

Fernandez acknowledges her admiration for Ana Mendieta, the great Cuban artist who died tragically and worked even with the soil of her native country. She also is interested in the works of Michael Joo, Alfredo Jaar, Mel Chin and Andrea Zittel.

She has lived in Boston since 1980 with her husband, whom she married 27 years ago. Boston's beauty and intense cultural life make her happy; so does her closeness to the sea. She works at the Massachusetts Arts Council [(sic) Council for the Arts at Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and loves her neighborhood, Jamaica Plain, which she describes as a multiethnic community of artists -- without fences, of course.

Until now, Miami was a bittersweet memory. This city was her gateway to the United States in 1962, when she arrived at age 5 with her mother and sister.

``I have a vague memory of staying in a very modest hotel in South Beach, in a broken-down room, while waiting to be relocated to New York, where my father was waiting for us. My mother was so confused that one day, instead of putting sugar in our milk, she put powdered soap.''

The past few days in Miami have brought her closer to the city.

''I've discovered that I am in love with Miami. I like how international this city is and how lively its arts scene is. Thanks to this exhibition, the bitter memories no longer predominate.'' In her autobiographical essay, A Cuban Tie, a Cuban Divide, Fernandez describes the difficulties that her family went through during the first few years in exile.

Until the end of the month, you can see at the MAC this artist's work, which shows -- in an original manner -- the artificial landscape of enclosures that pretend to guard their dwellers with walls of cement rather than keys. These enclosed communities become like urban jails for free people.

Norma Niurka writes on culture and entertainment for El Nuevo Herald.

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