High Tide by Mabel Poblet
Artist: Mabel Poblet
Date created: 2022
In this breathtaking installation by Cuban artist Mabel Poblet, thousands of individual pieces of acrylic dangle from the ceiling fifty feet above, gently twirling in currents of air caused by viewers passing up and down the stairs. On one side are images of the ocean, with occasional blurred glimpses of boats, and on the other are mirrors, reflecting light in watery patterns on the walls.
For Cubans, the ocean is both a gateway and a barrier to the world beyond, with the island nation currently experiencing an exodus that eclipses the 1980 Mariel boatlift and 1994 Balsero crisis, combined. Close to 178,000 Cubans fled to the US in the year ending July 2022, and some predict a total population loss of 500,000. Unknown numbers have perished attempting the passage to the Florida Keys, fleeing economic collapse brought about (in no particular order) by US-led sanctions, government dysfunction, the Covid pandemic, and political crackdowns. Of course, it is only one of many such migrations happening around the world, brought about by similar forces.
Poblet’s installation alludes to the waters bridging Cuba and Key West, but also suggests a universal yearning for freedom, whether it’s personal, political or simply human. From the lower floors, the view up to the ceiling evokes the view from deep underwater, looking up to the surface. It takes an act of will not to want to climb to the top, to break free into the open air. By embedding the viewers into the piece with mirrors, the implication is not just that we share the same yearning for freedom, but that we share a responsibility to make it happen.
Mabel Poblet (b. 1986, Cienfuegos, Cuba) is among the leading artists of her generation, with works in major collections across the globe, and having represented Cuba at the 2017 Venice Biennial. She is a graduate of Cuba’s prestigious San Alejandro Academy and Instituto Superior de Artes (ISA), and is a former artist-in-residence at The Studios of Key West.
High Tide is proudly presented as part of the City of Key West’s Art in Public Places program. Poblet is represented by Gallery on Greene, which waived its commission in order to make the installation possible.