CUBAN CON­TEM­PO­RARY ART ON

Art On Cuba - - In This Issue - ALESSAN­DRA DINI HI­DALGO

Cuba. Tat­u­are la sto­ria has been pro­posed as the most ex­ten­sive ex­hi­bi­tion on con­tem­po­rary Cuban art. Be­cause of that pe­cu­liar­ity it is placed in the list of great group shows with a national topic which, since the mid­dle of the 1990s, have been hold­ing away from Cuba, with the in­ten­tion of of­fer­ing a deep look on the Cuban phe­nom­e­non and fa­cil­i­tate its place­ment in the in­ter­na­tional artis­tic panorama.

Un­til Septem­ber 12 it will be pos­si­ble to visit the ex­hi­bi­tion at the PAC of Mi­lan, Pav­il­ion of Con­tem­po­rary Art. Among the works we find re­cent or al­most site spe­cific pieces, and oth­ers that may be de­fined as clas­sics, of the 31 in­vited artists. There are dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions fac­ing each other, “a de­cen­tered con­stel­la­tion of artis­tic ex­pe­ri­ences and at­ti­tudes” as can be read in the press note; most of the names cho­sen had been al­ready ex­hib­ited in Italy, some of them even in pres­ti­gious events like the Venice Bi­en­nial.

Such a wide ex­hi­bi­tion of­fers many ar­gu­ments on which to re­flect: the body as place of in­ter­ven­tion, the search of iden­tity, the trans-ter­ri­to­rial char­ac­ter­is­tic of Cuban cul­ture and the prob­lem of mi­gra­tion, of cen­sor­ship. There are many paths that may be fol­lowed. That is why we must choose which to deal with so as not get lost in the crowd.

Cuba. Tat­u­are la sto­ria is the ti­tle cho­sen by cu­ra­tors Diego

Sileo and Gi­a­como Zaza to metaphor­i­cally un­der­line how the Cuban events left an in­deli­ble mark in the cor­pus of the world history of the 20th cen­tury, just when the in­ter­na­tional political changes have switched on the re­flec­tors to the coun­try and the in­ter­est to know Cuba grows, also from an artis­tic point of view. Cuban art, as al­ready happened years ago, must face the ex­pec­ta­tions of the West and choose whether mak­ing good use of its ad­van­tage or re­fut­ing the false myths that were built around it. “Would you like to buy my mis­ery?”, Luis Gómez phrase, seems to be the most ad­e­quate to ex­press this ob­ses­sion. Un sueño Sufi

(A Sufi Dream, 2011), the ti­tle of the work, is a clear ref­er­ence to con­sumerism re­lated to art. I imag­ine that part of the au­di­ence vis­it­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion will have sim­i­lar prej­u­dices and I won­der if this will be the oc­ca­sion to re­fute some and open to a de­ter­mined his­tor­i­cal rel­a­tivism. What is the idea of History within the is­land and not the idea of History that has been formed on the is­land? Cuba shares with other coun­tries in Latin Amer­ica a colo­nial past that can­celed its orig­i­nal chronol­ogy to post­pone its birth in the mo­ment in which Christo­pher Colum­bus dis­cov­ered it, and to erase from mem­ory all in­dige­nous tra­di­tions.

For many cen­turies, Cuba has be­come an only ge­o­graph­i­cal en­tity: the Euro­peans be­fore and the Amer­i­cans later have been in­ter­ested espe­cially in its strate­gic po­si­tion in the Gulf of Mex­ico. In ad­di­tion, the so­cial­ist Revo­lu­tion im­planted it­self in that his­tor­i­cal void and am­pli­fied the time di­men­sion to­wards the in­fi­nite. From the year of the “Tri­umph of the Revo­lu­tion”, all the sub­se­quent years were de­voted to com­mem­o­rate ev­ery event of the guer­ril­las or the goals achieved by the regime. Un­be­liev­ably, Cuba lives to­day sunk in the history, which rep­re­sents the crys­tal­liza­tion of its re­cent past. To clas­sify the his­tor­i­cal facts in a daily the­atri­cal­ity pro­duces the paral­y­sis of each pos­si­ble ar­gu­men­ta­tion. Among the artist cho­sen some vin­di­cate their “own right to put in de­bate the of­fi­cial ver­sions of re­al­ity and history”, to use Tonel’s words.1 There is no doubt of the im­por­tance of the val­ues gen­er­ated by revo­lu­tion­ary events, but of their true reper­cus­sion in present times.

The site spe­cific work Bar­reras Ide­ológ­i­cas (Ide­o­log­i­cal Bar­ri­ers, 2016), by Hum­berto Díaz, re­ceives the vis­i­tor at the en­try of the ex­hi­bi­tion and it’s strongly re­lated to that idea. The artist pro­jected a labyrinth oc­cu­py­ing the en­tire court­yard be­tween

Villa Reale and the venue of PAC. At first view, the in­stal­la­tion seems to be a group of ge­o­met­ri­cal el­e­ments with a metal grid re­mind­ing some cages but, looking with more at­ten­tion, the vis­i­tor finds out that the prac­ti­ca­ble space cor­re­sponds to the form of a let­ter in the al­pha­bet. In some mo­ments of the day, the shad­ows pro­jected on the floor fa­cil­i­tates to de­code the let­ters. This sud­den dis­cov­ery is an in­vi­ta­tion to read: the group of char­ac­ters forms the word IDEAS. Cross­ing the or­thog­o­nal axes of that space is a claus­tro­pho­bic ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause the view of the sky is hin­dered by the metal grid. And if we de­cide to ven­ture in the tor­tu­ous in­ter­stices of the in­stal­la­tion, our eyes are free to look above.

The straight and eas­ier path to fol­low is a metaphor of or­tho­doxy (from Greek or­thos which means straight and doxa, which means opin­ion) im­pos­ing the ab­so­lute ac­cep­tance of an of­fi­cial idea, while the non-rec­ti­lin­ear path co­in­cides with the process of search of per­sonal ideas, the only way to guar­an­tee our free­dom.

Diglosia (2010) by Ernesto Leal in­vites us to re­flect on the di­lu­tion of mean­ings of revo­lu­tion­ary slo­gans once they are re­peated with in­sis­tence on the walls of the city and are de­nied by the ur­ban­is­tic en­vi­ron­ment that re­ceives them. In spite of their large let­ters, these mes­sages now seem not to awake the in­ter­est of the passers-by and re­main only as a chaotic vis­ual back­ground.

Leal, who for years car­ries out a re­search on in­sti­tu­tional world’s lexis, tries to evade through the video the con­text of the phrases and give them a new sense thanks to edi­tion. Mar­rero and Toirac, how­ever, ques­tion the rhetor­i­cal be­hav­ior of the au­thor­ity when rewrit­ing the history, re­veal­ing the rules of their self-rep­re­sen­ta­tion and the form in which mem­ory is ma­nip­u­lated. Con per­miso de la his­to­ria (With Per­mis­sion of History, 1994) is a col­lec­tion of black and white pho­tos with which the artists rein­ter­pret some fa­mous pho­tos by Korda in the year 1962, when the Com­man­der in Chief re­turned from Sierra Maes­tra to posthu­mously build the of­fi­cial images of the Revo­lu­tion. The rul­ing power uses pho­tog­ra­phy with dis­cern­ment, be­cause it rec­og­nizes their aura of ob­jec­tiv­ity and in­vents the iconog­ra­phy that would travel around the world dur­ing those years feed­ing the ro­man­tic idea of the Cuban revo­lu­tion­ar­ies. The artists show, through an ev­i­dent mise-en-scène, that history’s ac­cu­racy is only as­sumed.

is the ti­tle cho­sen by cu­ra­tors Diego Sileo and Gi­a­como Zaza to metaphor­i­cally un­der­line how the Cuban events left an in­deli­ble mark in the cor­pus of the world history of the 20th cen­tury…

Some of the ex­hib­ited works have in com­mon the same in­ter­est to ex­am­ine the fig­ure of the hero in our times: Javier Cas­tro’s video ti­tled Re­con­struyendo al héroe (Re­con­struct­ing the Hero, 2006) and Héroe (Hero, 2011), a sculp­ture in glass by Wil­fredo Prieto. The word hero might seem rather an­ti­quated in to­day’s usual lan­guage; how­ever, in Cuba it is re­it­er­ated with in­sis­tence in the com­mu­ni­ca­tion me­dia: enough to think is the re­cent case of the “Five Heroes”, Cuban se­cret agents ar­rested in the United States and re­leased in 2014. The depth of the marks left by History is again mea­sured in ev­ery­day life. Cas­tro estab­lishes a par­al­lel­ism among the twenty-six war wounds of the coura­geous gen­eral An­to­nio Maceo and the same num­ber of Afro-Cuban moth­ers who de­clare to the cam­era how many and which were the episodes of violence suf­fered by their sons. Violence, sub­li­mated in the epic of the Maceo’s myth, is ex­pressed with all its harsh­ness in fam­ily sto­ries which high­light an ex­tremely del­i­cate so­cial sit­u­a­tion in which hero­ism does not find a place of its own. Prieto also ques­tions the hero’s iden­tity in our times when he presents us a par­al­lelepiped of empty glass as if it were a dis­play cab­i­net ready to keep his ves­tiges. How­ever, the space in the urn stays va­cant, be­cause to­day the dy­namic strength of the ideas of the great ones is pre­served only if they do not turn into stereo­types.

The work by Reynier Leyva Novo is cen­tered on this point: in No me guardes si me muero (Do Not Keep Me if I Die, 2016), the artist de­cides to burn the vol­umes of the com­plete works of national poet José Martí as if the flames could metaphor­i­cally lib­er­ate the orig­i­nal essence of his thought of the use­less tin­sels gen­er­ated by the use of the texts. Tonel, how­ever, is in­ter­ested on an­other great politi­cian and man of let­ters: An­to­nio Gram­sci. The au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal ref­er­ences are openly ev­i­dent in the ti­tle of the work. Au­tor­re­trato como in­t­elec­tual orgánico. Hom­e­naje a Gram­sci (Self-por­trait as an Or­ganic In­tel­lec­tual. Trib­ute to Gram­sci, 1997-2016), an in­stal­la­tion of draw­ings made on dif­fer­ent sup­ports, pho­tog­ra­phy and pre­ex­is­tent ob­jects, like bricks. Tonel con­tin­ues ques­tion­ing the role of in­tel­lec­tu­als in Cuban so­ci­ety, a still open topic as much as it is thought ended with the op­ti­mistic im­pulse of the artis­tic gen­er­a­tion of the 1980s, the “chil­dren of Utopia”, as Os­valdo Sánchez named them.2 Al­though with the bit­ter­ness of some­one who no­tices that as­pi­ra­tion and re­al­ity not al­ways co­in­cide, Tonel dreams with the pos­si­bil­ity of in­car­nat­ing Gram­sci’s ideal of an artist op­er­at­ing with­out be­ing sep­a­rated from the con­text to which he be­longs.

Cuban artists are still the chron­i­clers of their time, with­out reach­ing utopia, with their feet on the earth. Many give voice to sec­ondary sto­ries, col­lect the bi­ogra­phies of com­mon peo­ple liv­ing in the mar­gins of the of­fi­cial history and, with their marginal­ity, demon­strate the par­tial­ity of a uni­vo­cal ver­sion of the facts. The omit­ted parts of the of­fi­cial speech find their place. René Fran­cisco Ro­dríguez, for ex­am­ple, doc­u­ments in video how the cre­ative act may be trans­lated into a process serv­ing the com­mu­nity in an ab­so­lute way. In Agua Benita (2008) we know Benita, an elder lady with se­ri­ous dif­fi­cul­ties of move­ment who lives alone in a ru­ined house in Bue­nav­ista neigh­bor­hood, in the pe­riph­ery of Ha­vana. Video images wit­ness the commitment of the artist in restor­ing the house in agree­ment with the wishes of its owner. On the other hand, al­ready in 1990 he had in­vited his stu­dents from the Higher In­sti­tute of Arts to live for some days with the peo­ple of a very poor neigh­bor­hood, with the obli­ga­tion of putting at dis­po­si­tion their ca­pac­i­ties to sat­isfy the needs of their room­mates. Galería DUPP, acro­nym of Desde una Prag­mática Pedagóg­ica (From a Ped­a­gog­i­cal Prag­matic), as this ex­per­i­men­ta­tion group was called, was a con­crete ex­am­ple of the close­ness be­tween art and life.

Grethell Rasúa fol­lows the steps of René Fran­cisco, ac­ti­vat­ing with her au­di­ence a true clien­tele re­la­tion­ship and “of­fer­ing small ser­vices, the artist fills the frac­tures of the so­cial link”, us­ing the words of Ni­co­las Bour­ri­aud.3 In the long run project

Con tu pro­pio sa­bor (With Your Own Fla­vor, 2005-2006), Rasúa prom­ises to cul­ti­vate herbs and spices for a cho­sen group of per­sons in ex­change of re­ceiv­ing their ex­cre­ments to pre­pare the com­post with which the plants would be fed. The level of prox­im­ity reached with the pub­lic is sur­pris­ing, since we are talk­ing about the ne­go­ti­a­tion with some­thing as pri­vate as defecation.

Cuba. Tat­u­are la sto­ria

In­stal­la­tion view

WIL­FREDO PRIETO Héroe, 2011

REYNIER LEYVA NOVO

No me guardes si me muero, 2016

Photo: Alessan­dra Dini

Cuban art, as al­ready happened years ago, must face the ex­pec­ta­tions of the West and choose whether mak­ing good use of its ad­van­tage or re­fut­ing the false myths that were built around it…

An­other ex­change is that of Luis Gár­ciga with the passengers to which he of­fers a free trip in car to learn about their his­to­ries. The video Desti­nos posi­bles (Pos­si­ble Des­tinies, 2008-2009) reg­is­ters fresh tes­ti­monies of the peo­ple in the street in the for­mat of a doc­u­men­tary film. When lis­ten­ing which are the pur­poses these per­sons would want to reach in life, the spec­ta­tor em­pa­thet­i­cally re­flects his as­pi­ra­tions and dis­cov­ers that wishes are fre­quently frus­trated in the same way, what­ever the lat­i­tude in which we may be.

In a so­cial sys­tem that em­pha­sizes col­lec­tivism it is not easy to pre­serve small spa­ces for per­sonal af­fir­ma­tion and, al­though many things are chang­ing from that point of view, in the Cuban pop­u­la­tion an ev­i­dent schiz­o­phrenic be­hav­ior has been cre­ated: Cubans think and say op­po­site things, hid­ing facts and opin­ions has en­tered into the lim­its of nor­mal­ity and is widely tol­er­ated. Celia-Yu­nior and Ricardo Miguel Hernán­dez lis­ten to the ru­mors of the neigh­bor­hood and ex­plore the lim­its of dou­ble moral­ity. The omit­ted sto­ries, in this case, cor­re­spond to what is in­ap­pro­pri­ate to tell but ev­ery­one knows. Colo­nias Epí­fi­tas (Epi­phytic Colonies, 20122013), by Celia-Ju­nior, is cat­a­logu­ing the houses aban­doned by their rich own­ers af­ter the Tri­umph of the Revo­lu­tion, suc­ces­sively con­fis­cated and turned into State in­sti­tu­tions. As an epi­phytic plant, the new State has es­tab­lished it­self in

the man­sions of the prece­dent economic power. Pho­togra­phies of dif­fer­ent sizes, pre­sented with­out frames, es­sen­tial in their func­tion as a doc­u­ment, made up the se­ries Acerca de las ba­jas pa­siones (About Low Pas­sions, 2014-2015). Dur­ing an en­tire year, Hernán­dez has fol­lowed a per­son the State has set in charge of watch­ing the be­hav­ior of his fel­low cit­i­zens to de­nounce sus­pi­cious in­di­vid­u­als. The artist de­cides to re­verse the role and, thus, makes ev­i­dent the fail­ure of a sys­tem based on the re­cip­ro­cal sus­pi­cion which should guar­an­tee a mo­rally im­pec­ca­ble so­ci­ety.

An arche­ol­o­gist at­ti­tude moves Car­los Garaicoa when he roams among the ar­chi­tec­tonic ru­ins of the won­der­ful Cuban cap­i­tal. The build­ings, as well as the per­sons, may keep pe­riph­eral sto­ries and talk with­out too much clamor.

The in­stal­la­tion Sloppy Joe's Bar Dream… (1995), which closes the ex­hi­bi­tion tour, is an ex­am­ple. In this work the artist per­fectly re­con­structs the orig­i­nal en­vi­ron­ment, based on some ob­jects found in this myth­i­cal place of en­joy­ment: the bar, the la­bels of the bot­tles, the coast­ers, the pho­tos of those who fre­quented the place hang­ing on the walls. The mem­ory of a space wit­ness­ing the so­ci­ety in the years be­fore the Revo­lu­tion is now re­stored, a mem­ory viv­i­fied by the vis­i­tors who cor­dially drink the wine of­fered by the artist and leave their marks when leav­ing the empty glasses. ƒ

74

LOS CARPIN­TEROS Clavo ocho, 2015

Metal

Photo: Annamaria La Mas­tra

RICARDO MIGUEL HERNÁN­DEZ

Acerca de las ba­jas pa­siones, 2014-2015 (De­tail) Photo: Alessan­dra Dini

HUM­BERTO DÍAZ Bar­reras ide­ológ­i­cas, 2016 In­stal­la­tion

© Hum­berto Díaz

1. An­to­nio Eli­gio (Tonel): “Tra rin­no­va­mento e crisi: l’arte a Cuba negli ul­timi de­cenni del XX se­c­olo”. In: AAVV, Cuba. Tat­u­are la sto­ria, Sil­vana Edi­to­ri­ale, Mi­lan 2016.

2. Sánchez, Os­valdo: “Los hi­jos de la Utopia”. In AAVV,

No man is an is­land, Pori, Pori Taide­museo, 1990, pag. 54.

3. Bour­ri­aud, Ni­colás: Estet­ica re­lazionale, Post­medi­a­books,

Mi­lan, 2010.

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