Earlier this month, Manhattan’s Madison Square Park was the setting for Día de los Reyes, a community event celebrating Afro-Cuban dance and culture. Initiated by Teresita Fernández and the Madison Square Park Conservancy, it took place beneath the golden canopies of Fernández’s installation Fata Morgana.
Developed by Fernández, Cuban-born performer and scholar Yesenia Seller, and the Cuban cultural group Global Rhythms, the event began with a series of quick, informal dance workshops for adults, kids, and families, followed by a joyous procession of all participants through the pathways of Fata Morgana.
As a performance work, Día de los Reyes was inspired by the traditions of Cuban carnival, as well as other cultural traditions. The date of the performance, July 18, was chosen to coincide with the celebration of the Carnaval de Santiago de Cuba, one of the largest carnival events on the island.
“In colonial times,” Seller explained in a written statement, “Día de los Reyes was the only day when Africans, free or enslaved, could publicly perform their dances and music. It was a day of racial, ethnic, and religious freedom.”
In her talk at the opening of Fata Morgana earlier this spring, Fernández spoke about using the project’s sheer size and visibility “as a vehicle to amplify other invisibilities,” including Latino and other cultures in New York.“ In a written statement she noted that “At a moment in time where it seems more crucial than ever to uphold principles of social justice, Yesenia’s historically rooted Día de los Reyes celebration of freedom will be a powerful way to reinforce the democratic spaces that public art can create.”
Teresita Fernández: Fata Morgana remains on view at Madison Square Park through winter 2015–16. For related programming, see the Madison Square Art Conservancy calendar.