Art On Cuba - - Cuban Contemporary Art - Rigoberto Otaño Milián

De­cem­ber 17, 2014. In Cuba that mid­day tore the land as a sea­son fi­nale of Game of Thrones. When go­ing to the street you felt some­thing dif­fer­ent, as if the air sud­denly car­ried weight, as if it had be­come denser. Later was that enor­mous crash that for a sec­ond re­sounded on the ground; an ex­plo­sion of pistons, a gi­ant struc­ture which be­gan to un­der­take the march af­ter years of rusty wait. I am op­ti­mistic… What can we do! I could not avoid think­ing that History had started its course. Fin­ish­ing this line I hear in my mind a sar­cas­tic Ju­lia Roberts: “Thank

God we can­not pre­dict the future or we’ll never get out of bed.”1

Of course, the air had not con­densed and nei­ther did the earth trem­ble. Def­i­nitely not. Some­thing made a “click” in the way peo­ple see the world; some­thing that was not there be­fore: ex­pec­ta­tion. Now re­al­ity must be at its height.

Two weeks later the ice was bro­ken in the art main­stream. With pre­cise haste, a de­cided Ta­nia Bruguera ini­ti­ated the per­se­cu­tion of her white whale, be­fore it defini­tively sunk in the ocean. Up to a cer­tain point, I un­der­stand the pas­sions the de­bates around her aroused, many times in voices and be­cause of causes alien to art. But that is, af­ter all, history for a dif­fer­ent text. Among other things, Ta­nia’s act—in my opin­ion with seams and ex­ceed­ingly vis­i­ble in­ter­ests—was the first of many flares that would be thrown to the pub­lic arena from then on. Cuba, from one day to the next, was again trad­ing.

Since those days we could fol­low the dis­con­tin­u­ous trail of bread­crumbs to an end­less num­ber of or­gies be­tween that god of many faces Cuban art is and a dis­perse etcetera of in­sti­tu­tions and per­son­al­i­ties re­lated to (or aris­ing from) the United States con­text. On this trend, in June 2016, be­tween the mas­sacre in the Or­lando Club and the Poké­mon Go epi­demic, a news emerged in in­ter­net in­volv­ing fa­mil­iar names.

(Art)xiomas: The Next Gen­er­a­tion was an ex­hi­bi­tion cu­rated by Gabriela Gar­cía Azcuy in which the work of 15 young

Cuban artists was con­nected. With a wide cov­er­age of the

North Amer­i­can press, the result (ex­plic­itly stated in 23 works of di­verse ex­pres­sions) was ex­hib­ited be­tween June 9 and Au­gust 7 of 2016, in the Art Mu­seum of the Amer­i­cas (AMA) in Washington D. C.2

The ex­hi­bi­tion gave con­ti­nu­ity to the homony­mous show or­ga­nized as part of the project Cubaa­hora: The Next Gen­er­a­tion, on Novem­ber 2015, in the Mi­ami Span­ish Cul­tural Cen­ter. And, as ev­ery event, it was marked by cir­cum­stances, with causal links among col­leagues and con­nois­seurs of art.

But let us cen­ter on the ex­hi­bi­tion.


Read­ing the words in the cat­a­logue we un­der­stand that (Art) xiomas… do not pre­tend to be ex­clu­sivist. The ex­hi­bi­tion was con­ceived as “notes”, as a mu­ta­ble ex­pe­ri­ence and in full de­vel­op­ment,3 al­ways open to artists who dis­close new facets in that gen­er­a­tional lapse they in­tend to ap­pre­hend.

Ed­u­cated un­der the same pre­cepts of our par­ents, we grew up with the grad­ual rup­ture of the utopia and of the so-called hom­bre nuevo (new man). The dis­par­ity be­tween the speech and the pre­vail­ing re­al­ity was an un­avoid­able fact. And that sup­pos­edly “lost gen­er­a­tion” of our par­ents was the same that found ways for a greater well-be­ing of their chil­dren. That is how we be­came a gen­er­a­tion alien to cheers and slo­gans; we sim­ply lost the splen­dor of col­lec­tivism, of the mass as an em­blem, and took refuge in the supremacy of the self, of the in­di­vid­ual be­ing.4

That is how Azcuy de­scribes the time of some Cubans in which she in­cludes her­self. On art and its artists she talks about the “very par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics of their work and so­cial po­si­tion­ing”. The ref­er­ents emerge with ev­ery line I read in the cat­a­logue. Here goes a sam­ple of those un­avoid­able tan­gen­cies.

When, in ref­er­ence to this gen­er­a­tion, Gabriela men­tions a “re­mark­able au­ton­omy”, an “in­di­vid­ual man­age­ment in her own spa­ces and work­shops”, I can­not avoid think­ing in Es­tu­dio 331, where Alex Hernán­dez, Frank Mu­jica and Adrián Fernán­dez have joined forces. When she talks about the “con­tin­u­ous work with the national in­sti­tu­tions and with gal­leries and in­ter­na­tional cen­ters”,5 Ma­bel Poblet sud­denly comes to my mind, a young­ster who has known how to take in her hand out­stand­ing ex­hi­bi­tions in the UNEAC, as Pa­tria (Home­land),6 with a con­stant work in in­ter­na­tional gal­leries (Co Galería in Chile and Pa­tri­cia Conde in Mex­ico are just two ex­am­ples). In that same way, when re­fer­ring to “aesthetic-con­cep­tual ar­tic­u­la­tion” as “amal­gam func­tion­ing as suf­fi­cient tau­tol­ogy”, the in­ter­weaved pho­tos by Jorge Otero, the land­scapes with open­work pa­per by Ari­amna Con­tino, Frank Mu­jica’s char­coal draw­ings and the ex­quis­ite vis­ual nar­ra­tions by Adis­lén Reyes sud­denly emerge. Fi­nally, al­ready clos­ing her text, Azcuy points out: “They are in­dis­putably Cuban artists, but they be­long to the era of cul­tural glob­al­iza­tion. So they should not be an­a­lyzed as part of a lo­cal art, sep­a­rated of the in­ter­na­tional scener­ies and ap­proaches.”7

With this in mind, I think on the gear­ings that could func­tion for this gen­er­a­tion, which grew with Face­book and the myth of Damien Hirst as a pos­si­ble path to success. A gen­er­a­tion for which to be an artist is not only to ap­pear in the slides of the pro­fes­sors of History of Art, but—as for­mer gen­er­a­tions in Cuba have demon­strated—im­plies a sign of so­cial sta­tus, a le­git­i­mate escape of de­pri­va­tions and fee­ble economies.

We live in a world where, whether we like it or not, the cat­a­logues of Christie’s and Sotheby’s es­tab­lish a good part of the so­cial merid­ian; a world where Andy Warhol is the fourth most gog­gled artist—what­ever this means—, while Joseph Beuys is ranked 74.8 Cuba, of course, be­longs to this world, so to ig­nore this would be as use­less as talk­ing to a cac­tus.

On the other hand, with re­gard to the dia­lec­tic that—in the ex­hi­bi­tion—is es­tab­lished with these artists, some­thing in­trigues me. “They are Cubans liv­ing in Cuba”, the press re­peats over and over again, as if they were speak­ing of ex­otic birds. And it seems the phrase has some­thing magic, as if in its in­ex­pli­ca­bly nec­es­sary re­dun­dancy it an­swered all pos­si­ble ques­tions. For a Cuban artist to re­main in Cuba is an ev­ery­day con­di­tion that re­sults in the most vin­tage for the mar­ket, some­thing like hav­ing wine in Paris or study Bud­dhism in the cliffs of the Hi­malaya: a con­di­tion of mark that pre­vi­ously guar­an­tees the qual­ity—or at least the sta­tus—of his works.

It has be­come com­mon to spec­u­late on the rea­son of this mys­ti­cism. In facts, un­til re­cently it was at­trib­uted to the ego­cen­trism prod­uct of our deeply rooted cul­tural in­breed­ing. But some­thing is re­ally hap­pen­ing. I per­ceive it when a char­ac­ter as global as Don Thomp­son, jok­ing on the para­doxes of the cul­tural world in Ha­vana and the pos­si­bil­i­ties of its artists and art acad­e­mies, refers that: “The grad­u­ates of Fine Arts in Yale Columbia may have cho­sen the wrong school”.9

Fi­nally, on the notes by Gabriela on her (Art)xiomas, I would add that this is a gen­er­a­tion that has grown with time to learn the mis­takes of the past; that un­der­stands the dis­ap­point­ment and use­less­ness of the sac­ri­fice for alien causes. This is a gen­er­a­tion that avoids un­nec­es­sary con­flicts, that bal­ances on the mar­gin of the bor­ders; that en­dures what it does not like and takes all the pos­si­ble ben­e­fits from the pe­cu­liar­i­ties of its con­text. This is a gen­er­a­tion which knows that, to suc­ceed in art, the path is not far from their is­land, but well inside the land.

Brief al­though nec­es­sary jour­ney

Adri­ana Ar­ronte, Ari­amna Con­tino, Gus­tavo del Valle,

Adrián Fernán­dez, Alex Hernán­dez, Frank Mu­jica, Os­meivy Ortega, Jorge Otero, Jo­suhe Pagliery, Ma­bel Poblet, Lisan­dra Ramírez, Adis­lén Reyes, Roger Toledo, Grethell Rasúa and Harold Gar­cía. For each of these artists, be­ing a Cuban means some­thing rather spe­cific. (Art)xiomas…, al­though out­lin­ing tan­gency zones among these 15 in­di­vid­u­al­i­ties, uni­fies very di­verse forms of ex­is­tence. These are brief—and per­haps a lit­tle ar­bi­trary—im­pres­sions on some of their works.

When Lisan­dra Ramírez talks, the voice of a girl comes from her throat. Hers are sub­lime meet­ings be­tween im­plicit speeches and forms of over­whelm­ing sim­plic­ity. They are com­ing (2015) is an in­stal­la­tion of air­planes, hot air bal­loons and other ships, toys as those hang­ing from ba­bies cra­dles. In their sur­faces she prints jux­ta­po­si­tions of pow­er­ful con­tem­po­rary sym­bols (Barack Obama, Mark Zucker­berg, Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, even her­self) on pic­tures of the Ha­vana of the 1950s. A lit­tle bit the way in which Cuba is seen —un­ex­plored jun­gle, vir­gin mar­ket, jewel of the past—and a lit­tle as a Cuban sees his coun­try, the in­stal­la­tion hangs from above, over the heads of those that, like chil­dren from their cra­dles, hardly dis­tin­guish what is hap­pen­ing, but have no in­flu­ence or power to change it.

Frank Mu­jica draws from silence. His con­text is dis­solved be­tween the can­vas and the char­coal. His in­timism is noth­ing but a refuge. Un­ti­tled (dip­tych, 2016) is not a piece of deep in­ter­pre­ta­tions, but rather of he­do­nis­tic con­nec­tion. The en­joy­ment of who re­ceives it is only com­pa­ra­ble to that of the artist when he cre­ates. Of Mu­jica I can point out the ex­quis­ite calm his works ex­hale, that aesthetic de­light pro­tect­ing us, even when the World may hatch out­side.

Mi­gración (Mi­gra­tion, 2016), by Adri­ana Ar­ronte, is like tak­ing out from the closet those mem­o­ries and nos­tal­gias we all have, dust them off and give them work. The piece is an in­stal­la­tion of night but­ter­flies—be­ings com­monly as­so­ci­ated to aver­sion and prej­u­dices that usu­ally mi­grate fol­low­ing moon cy­cles—, beau­ti­fully crowded in a cor­ner. A lit­tle of Cuba, but also much of the World in this im­age.

For Jorge Otero his en­vi­ron­ment moves from dis­cur­sive forms, an­chored to an un­avoid­able past, and the re­al­ity that con­stantly twists the paths of the is­land. Cás­cara (Peel, 2013), one of the most enig­matic works of the ex­hi­bi­tion, reveals that con­flict be­tween the sub­ject and the con­text/tra­di­tion that gives it form, but at the same time lim­its it. It could be said that for him the world is not di­vided be­tween rich and poor, but be­tween chil­dren and par­ents, be­tween yes­ter­day and to­day, be­tween the in­her­ent rigid­ity of the tra­di­tion and the nec­es­sary will to break it.

Ma­bel Poblet set up a struc­ture with blue, red and white threads. Then she re­turns and dances naked. She wraps her­self among the threads and, with each move­ment, de­fines the traces of her path, molds the space and it, as re­duc­ing it­self, be­gins to chan­nel her ac­tions. Madeja (Hank, 2015) shows us in a cer­tain form how History func­tions, and the iden­tity, and the ir­refutable time. When giv­ing it phys­i­cal form and re­veal­ing it as lat­tice threads, as knots that in­creas­ingly con­strain our en­vi­ron­ment, Ma­bel dis­cov­ers the weight of each of our ac­tions and their future con­se­quences.

Grethell Rasúa pre­sented an over­whelm­ing work. The bloody legs/danc­ing shoes of a bal­let dancer, who re­fuses to give up no mat­ter what hap­pens, leave me the same im­pres­sion of the smile of that model who goes on with her work, even with her re­cently twisted foot. Ten­erse a sí mismo, tan llenos de fe y es­per­an­zas (Hav­ing Your­self, so Full of Faith and Hope, 2012), be­fore all, has to do with be­ing co­her­ent, with re­spect­ing that we hope to achieve even when life tries to con­vince us of the op­po­site. In the work we per­ceive a mo­ment of ex­is­tence when feel­ing part of some­thing (an ide­ol­ogy, a na­tion) im­plies a given level of commitment, of pride for the mer­its achieved, but also of in­cal­cu­la­ble doses of suf­fer­ing. Rasúa’s state­ment in the cat­a­logue sum­ma­rizes it al­most as well as her work: “The best way to be on pointe is by giv­ing ev­ery­thing from our­selves.”

In his ar­ti­cle on (Art)xiomas…,10 Ar­mando Trull nar­rates the visit by Emilio Cueto, a prod­uct of the Peter Pan Op­er­a­tion in 1960, who to­day owns one of the largest col­lec­tions in the world of mem­o­ries on Cuba. Cueto, now 73 years old, searches the walls of the AMA. And, in his step, he stops in Cás­cara by

Jorge Otero, and is moved by the se­ries Me­di­adores que mar­can ex­pe­ri­en­cias (Me­di­a­tors that Mark Ex­pe­ri­ences, 2016), a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Grethell Rasúa and Harold Gar­cía.

“I like that”, he says. I won­der how some­one as Emilio Cueto, with al­most 60 years out of Cuba and from a gen­er­a­tion with so dis­tant con­cerns, iden­ti­fies with the voices com­ing from the works of (Art)xiomas… In greater or lesser ex­tent, from all of them the traces of a na­tion which sur­vive emerge in the at­ti­tude with which its artists as­sume it. Traces that, it seems, make fun as chil­dren on the pass­ing of time; that are still Cuba, even for those who left.

Notes in the mar­gin

I do not think that (Art)xiomas… would be an event that will go by un­no­ticed. Al­though it is one more at­tempt to can­on­ize a sec­tor of con­tem­po­rary Cuban art be­fore in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences—af­ter all, which ex­hi­bi­tion is not like that to­day?—, there is some­thing in­ter­est­ing in its main fo­cus. There is the search­ing for a par­tic­u­lar­ity in the new­est pro­duc­tion of the is­land, which demon­strates its point, its ax­iom, sup­ported in works and artists, not the op­po­site. On the other hand, Gabriela does not re­strict her cu­ra­tor­ship to for­mal def­i­ni­tions or to the rel­a­tive role of these young­sters in the History of Art. She talks of their place in so­ci­ety and how they be­long to it: how they are re­lated with the pe­cu­liar mech­a­nisms un­der­ly­ing in Cuba at the be­gin­ning of the 21st cen­tury, which not only im­plies the de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion of a work, but also go­ing to find a truck to trans­port it.

For these young­sters, Cuba goes fur­ther than any de­bate, pos­ture or political party. Tatlin's Whisper does not worry them, nor the tantrums of that ag­o­nic past they have in­her­ited. They know that Kronos will even­tu­ally do his work. They know the world be­longs to them and it is only a mat­ter of time. ƒ

For these young artists, Cuba goes fur­ther than any de­bate, pos­ture or political party. They know that Kronos will even­tu­ally do his work. They know the world be­longs to them and it is only a mat­ter of time…

FRANK MU­JICA − Un­ti­tled, 2016 / Dyp­tich / Graphite on can­vas / 78 x 71 inches each MA­BEL POBLET − Madeja, 2015 / Sil­i­cone rope, metal, PVC / Per­for­mance / 9.8 x 16.4 x 13 ft Courtesy the artists

ALEX HERNÁN­DEZ − Selec­ción nat­u­ral, 2016 / Glass, Epoxy paint, wood / 78¾ x 118 inches / Courtesy the artist GUS­TAVO DEL VALLE − El ori­gen del mundo, 2014 / Molten alu­minum / 33½ x 130 x 22½ inches / Photo: Jorge Lavoy

1. Bárbara in Au­guste: Osage County (John Wells and Tracy Letts, 2013). 2. Fol­low­ing the press, ap­par­ently it is nec­es­sary to high­light that AMA is the mu­seum of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States (OAS). 3. Re­cently Gabriela Gar­cía Azcuy con­firmed me...

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