photo by: THEY bklyn
My Tin Cup (Artist Statement)
My left hand softly tapping on a dark wooden table located in the center of my small urban kitchen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – my home for the past fifteen years. As my fingers on my left hand continue to tap, my right hand tightly grips the small, dented silver tin cup that once belonged to my grandfather, Abuelo. I sit slumped over the table staring into the contents of the cup knowing that what it holds inside is more than just freshly brewed coffee from my American-style coffeepot: the interior holds experience, knowledge, and history. I begin to lift and tilt this cup towards my mouth, and slowly drain the coffee by repeating this same physical pattern over the course of several minutes.
These moments of repetition bring illusions of Abuelo sitting across the table from me, holding his own cup. He sits with his red, American trucker cap, white t-shirt and brown baggy pants awaiting our conversation – wanting to know who I am and how my life has unfolded. We sit in silence, drinking coffee, but before I can refill his cup, he tips it towards me—his characteristic gesture, expressing his contentment, his wish for more-- and his image disappears. I remain alone inhaling the smell of the intoxicating and rich freshly poured cup of addictive coffee. It explodes with hypnotizing swirls of heat that move off of the surface and into the air. Like Abuelos image being permanently present even if in absence of physicality, I see the swirls disappear beyond my reach even as the movement embeds in my kinesthetic consciousness.
These swirls carry knowledge within their moments of visibility and then invisibility: the unspoken words and history of a/my people manifests itself inside each cup and disappears again with the draining of the cup. The movements of the swirls are enough to tell the vanishing, shape-shifting story of the Cuban people who lived in diaspora, in and through absence. My grandfather, happy in exile, was never without his tin cup, which always held coffee or whiskey—or both. Each cup of coffee he drank was more or less the same as all the others, but vanished at different speeds, in different circumstances and to the rhythm of disparate stories. He listened and drank.
When I come too close to the coffee, as I must do to drink, I can feel the heat radiating in swirls, and then the burn of information when I drink too fast—as I often do. But the essence and behavior of a swirl is what has fed my own movement vocabulary: it spirals back down into the depths of its roots, even as it travels up and out, to return to the surface and air without a sound or word. Each delicate swirl of steam from the coffee carries the totality of what it knows of the people who cultivated and drank it.
It is admittedly poetic and slippery to meditate on what a swirl knows. But when art comes through me, and I try to put words to what it is, where it comes from, where it is going, this proves to be just as difficult to pin down into sentences—which can only swirl so much before they lose their sense. History is always rising up, even as it settles in the depths of the coffee grounds, and yet the surface, present-moment of the dance is always vanishing. The story of the journey is in a state of invisibility. The movement itself is, and has to be, enough.
This is my daily ritual.
As an American dance artist of Cuban birth, I find myself like so many children that migrated to a country before they could speak full sentences, in a place of co-existence: I am American but living alongside Cubans from different generations, trying to reconcile my place between two countries.