Havana, Cuba: 1946–Present

María Castagliola was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1946. She came to the United States in 1961 under Operation Peter Pan, after Fidel Castro took over Cuba. At fourteen, she was sent to stay with relatives in Florida, and after a few months, her parents followed her to the United States. She had never been separated from her home and extended family, and she found the move traumatic.

María had been allowed to bring only sixty pounds of belongings in her suitcases. Because Cuban history had always been turbulent, her family expected to return. María's family, however, settled in Miami, and many other people from Cuba settled there as well. She describes the time as like a fantasy, with people from the same neighborhoods in Cuba now living together in a small area of Miami. Since they had brought few personal items with them, María remembers her mother buying garments from Goodwill and sewing "new old clothes" by hand.

As a girl, she remembers wanting to be an artist, but she was unsure how to become one. She was so uncertain about this career choice that she kept it a secret. In high school, she felt lost and without direction. She even took a year off from school. In college, however, she discovered an interest in sociology and completed a master's degree. Her accomplishments and success as a sociologist gave her the confidence to reconsider becoming an artist.

Her mother's creative sewing as well as her work in sociology inspired María to create works such as A Matter of Trust, a quilt made of fabric, envelopes, and fiberglass screens. She focuses on social issues by involving the community in the process of creating the artwork.  In A Matter of Trust she collected secrets from friends and family in sealed envelopes and sewed them into a quilt between layers of fiberglass window screens.  She considered gathering the secrets a test of her own integrity. "The piece is not so much about secrets as about intimacy and trust," she said.  She chose the form of a quilt in part to represent this ideal of feminine bonding. For the community, the trust involves her promise never to open and reveal the secrets and never to sell the piece. In order to gain access to the secrets, she would have to tear the silk and the envelopes and would thus destroy the artwork and consequently the trust.

María also sees this piece as providing a mechanism of needed support. She believes that art can improve people’s lives. When she exhibits her work, she also creates a place where people can donate money to benefit local charities. As an activist artist she brings important social issues to the forefront.

See more works in our collection by this artist »