I lost both of my parents – Maria Lourdes Labrador and Jose Canaves – within a 34-day period the summer of 2013. Cuban exiles, we fled our cherished homeland in 1961, escaping the horrors of Castro's Communist Revolution. My mother, brother, and I went to Miami, while my father stayed behind. Five long years passed before we were reunited. During our separation, he wrote us many letters.
At the time, all of the correspondence coming in and going out of Cuba was intercepted. The Communists read every piece of mail – every letter, of every word, of every sentence, of every paragraph, of every page. So my father devised a secret code to communicate with us. His letters seemingly detailed mundane minutia in the daily life of a loving husband and father. In fact however, they contained information of a both personal and political nature, that could have easily led to his torture and even perhaps, execution. When my father died, my brother discovered the secret code among his things, typewritten on a torn piece of old paper.
Their Fate was Sealed is my love letter to my parents. It is made up of four different layers: the first layer is a photocopy of a letter that my father wrote to my mother. Over that, I superimposed a photocopy of what remains of my father's secret code. I printed both the letter and the code in reverse. In order to understand the text, viewers must use a mirror and have a reading knowledge of Spanish. The third layer is a drawing I made on transparent mylar of my parents, my brother and I. It was inspired by an old photograph taken in 1959, just before our picture-perfect life became a little less-than-perfect. For the final layer of the piece, I used a very precious type of Japanese handmade paper to fashion the envelope, because I wanted it to suggest the richness of the life we once led. I also wanted the paper to be softly translucent, like yellowed parchment, evocative of faded memories. I painted the envelope's flap with oil and silver leaf and the blood-red seal was made with encaustics (pigment mixed with wax).
For additional information on this piece, listen to my Public Radio interview:
Discovering a Hidden Family Treasure Inspires an Artist's Vision
by Virginia Lora, March 6, 2017