Artist Statements: Melba Nunez Isalbe & Roberto Pedroso Garcia

Project Director's Note

While they will not say it, both Melba Núñez Isalbe and Roberto Pedroso García were critical to this project. I first met Melba in Havana in 1997 when she was a translator for a dance class I was taking as part of a folkloric study course. I met Roberto around 2002 when we both went together in the same car to an event. Melba began to accompany me in the field in 1999 and has been by my side ever since. Roberto first accompanied me into the field in 2006. Likewise, he has been by my side ever since.

Together, Roberto and Melba were more than translators and field facilitators. They became as invested as I was in researching the history of Perico and Agramonte, especially the elder oral histories we were privileged to receive. They would spend time finding out information that was hard to get, even working on this in Cuba when I was back in Alaska. Melba transcribed and translated over 60 interviews for me since 2005 and then organized and compiled stories from these interviews based on key themes that emerged from the interviews. Roberto was always the calm in the storm, helping both Melba and I navigate the many protocols that surround religious ceremony and elder respect in the towns we moved amongst. As a religious practitioner himself, Roberto was our door and our gate.

Roberto's Altar in Havana, Brandon McElroy Photography

Roberto's contribution to the Secrets Under the Skin installation can be seen above in the photograph of Roberto's altar he constructed at the two Cuba sites (Fundacíon Ludwig in Havana December 22, 2010 and the Museo Municipal Constantino Barredo Guerra in Perico December 25, 2010) and in the video time lapse of the altar's construction in Havana. Melba's contribution can be seen in video selection of her reading elder oral histories at the Perico Municipal Museum opening. 

Jill Flanders Crosby
Project Director
Secrets Under the Skin

Roberto Pedroso García and Melba Núñez Isalbe working in the field in Agramonte, Cuba, Brandon McElroy Photography

Artist's Statement - Melba Núñez Isalbe

How do I start to speak about a project that scared me at the beginning, but that then grew and developed into unimaginable proportions? How can I explain that it turned into a part of my very self and made me change my ideas and helped me grow as a person? It is one of the best experiences I have had throughout the years.  Through it I have met great people and gone to incredible places.  I can only say thanks.

Melba Núñez Isalbe Reads Select Oral History Interviews. 2010

During the opening of Secrets Under the Skin in Perico at the Museo Constantino Barredo Guerra, December 25, 2010, Melba Núñez Isalbe read two selections of elder oral histories from Perico. More elder oral histories may be found in Susan Matthews' manuscripts located on her page, and in the two publications published by Jill Flanders Crosby identified at the end of the document Perico and Agramonte located on the Historical Information page.

Artist’s Statement - Roberto Pedroso García

This project is an important part of my life. It has given me the opportunity to know more about our idiosyncrasy and our African roots. I have known people like Susan, Jill, Brian, and Brandon who have contributed to this installation and we all have shared together with our brothers of the towns of Perico and Agramonte, Cuba whom we thank for their friendship and trust.
Roberto Pedroso García – Altar.  2010

For Secrets Under the Skin, Roberto Pedroso García built an altar in honor of the African peoples who arrived in the Perico and Agramonte areas. He used objects that Jill Flanders Crosby brought from Ghana and Togo, sand from Ghana's slave coast, ash from Jill's woodstove in Alaska and dirt and other religious objects from Cuba to tie all three places together. What follows is a time lapse of the construction of his altar at the Fundación Ludwig opening in Havana, December 22, 2010.

* Banner image photographed by Brandon McElroy