ON THE HORIZON:
Contemporary Cuban Art from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection
Internal Landscapes is exhibited at the Perez Art Museum Miami, PAMM, from June 9th, 2017, initiating the project On the horizon: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Jorge M. Perez Collection. This project has been conceived to be divided into three successive exhibits1 at the aforementioned institution whose purpose is to bring to light the significant contribution made to the Museum by Jorge Pérez, main patron of the institution and an avid collector of Cuban art. For carrying out this three-part exhibition, the works to be exhibited have been selected mainly from a recent donation of 170 pieces, as well as from previous donations and some new acquisitions.
To conceive the conceptual axis that would allow to intervene this collection—which is now in the Museum’s hands—in a coherent way must have been a great challenge due to its marked heterogeneity. In fact, one of the merits of this heritage is the variety of languages and discourses that are gathered. The curatorial frame and the leading plot chosen by the curator Tobias Ostrander to establish a narrative through this collection is the concept of Horizon, taken from a broad and ductile perspective, based on the idea that it expresses symbol, metaphor and mental space and not only a visual element of landscape. As the curator himself expressed in a note: “The exhibition is organized around the metaphor of the horizon line—a motif that appears in many of the works on view—and brings together a strong view of artistic practices in Cuba from the last three decades as well as works by young, lesser-known artists working on the island and across the globe.”2
Each of the three chapters that compose the exhibition must approach the theme Horizon from a different point of view. Therefore, Internal Landscapes consists of the first release of this extended exploration, and according to the title, we will find works in which the concept is conveyed in a manner that is more symbolic than graphic, rather related to psychology, expectations, yearnings or frustrations. On the other hand, the exhibit pretends to establish a connection between the aforementioned main notion of the word Horizon and its relation with the body, the landscape and the way in which they dialogue.
One of the works that greets us and that starts our circuit is the colossal sea made of small harpoons created by Yoan Capote in Island (see-scape), 2010. This piece is part of the already notorious series in which the author draws seascapes by using hooks. The horizon line and the ocean (main figure to express the limit illusion seen from the island) are the main elements of a work in which the drama and monumentality result is a forceful graphic statement that introduces us into the logic of the exhibition.
In this way, as we walk around we find again the figure of “water” as a link in the proposals of two artists that discourse from different spaces and perspectives. Juan Carlos Alom with the photographic series Born to be free (2012) and Antonia Wright with the video I scream therefore I exist (2011).
In Alom’s case it is also about the sea, the body and of course, the Horizon. The series consists of portraits of Cubans bathing in the coasts of the island while they themselves are territories being cast into the sea. Alom captures their faces, their expressions and in this way, the visible manifestation of their thoughts, their nature and maybe their desires. The island participates in these images in an elliptical way, we know it is there though we cannot see it. And maybe it is this heterotopic space of the sea which enables us to see from a distance the solid ground, the everyday life and makes us recall the liquid media in the womb where we came from, that which offers a kind of “rare” (because it is seldom frequent) feeling of freedom and where we perceive our lives from other perspectives.
Antonia Wright, on the other hand, through an introspective performance exercise makes us witness of a bizarre episode that is repeated over and over. In this episode the artist is totally submerged in a pool, a camera flashes her image intermittently as she screams out while another person, walking pleasantly inside the pool, with its head out of the water, seems not to notice what is happening in the foreground. We face two realities that happen simultaneously in a common space, a communicative drama generated precisely by the isolation that the aquatic medium produces. She is there, but nobody notices her screams or existence, just the spectator that is observing from outside, without any possibility of acting… The sensation is oppressive and refers us not only to that double condition of the sea as a channel to communicate and at the same time a barrier blocking it, but also to those countless conflicts of human groups that exist in our contemporary society without our being aware of their seriousness, despite their desperate screams.
Perhaps some readers might wonder who Antonia Wright is, as her name is not familiar among the locals and why she is included in this exhibition of Cuban art. Precisely one of the distinctive and worthy signs of Jorge Pérez’s collection, duly understood and represented in this collection, is to have assumed a wide notion of what Cuban art is. Antonia, for example, was born in Miami, from Cuban descent, and grew up in a home marked by the culture of the island, and that heritage forms part of her life and work. In the same manner, other creators of Cuban descent have been incorporated in the exhibit, like Teresita Fernández or that have emigrated from the island at any stage of their lives, like Enrique Martinez Celaya, who left Cuba when he was a little boy, or Julio Larraz, who emigrated in his early youth, even others who have moved in more recent stages and of course, artists who live in the island. This ecumenical and unbiased perspective is precisely one of the main values of this collection and what permits it to constitute a contribution in cultural terms and be coherent with contemporary circumstances in which migration flows are more and more frequent and multidirectional. Before this manner of conceiving Cuban art, we realize then that the line of Horizon, when it deals with cultural phenomena, must never be a dividing barrier, but rather an always expandable goal.
And the fact is that the phenomenon of the diaspora, the transit, the voyage… is fundamental to explore the idea of Horizon through the body and the landscape. And this is why in another salon we find the series Es solo agua en la lágrima de un extraño (There is just water in the teardrop of a stranger, 1986-2015) by Rogelio López Marín (Gory). In this series of photographs, as a common motive present in all the pieces, there is a swimming pool ladder that takes us down into a strained landscape, of dark waters, oceanic, rough and superposed with different scenes in each case: a car, a forest, a station, etc. The ladder certainly offers us access into an unknown universe, maybe longed for, but always mediated by that ambivalent space, the sea. It looks as though for a great part of Cuban art, the Horizon and the sea are a symbolic unit. Whereas in Gory’s series we look from outside, just before going down the ladder, in the series Aguas Baldías (Wild waters, 1992-1994) by Manuel Piña—in the exhibit two of his photographs are displayed outside the exhibition in a dialogue with other works exhibited in the Museum—3 we are at the climax, at a turning point, the moment in which we decide to set off for the aquatic medium, set off on a journey start the pursuit of our horizons.
Sandra Ramos’ suitcase also tells us about the voyage in the series Migraciones II (Migrations II, l994). The object itself is the most direct allusion to a transit marked by the attainment of a horizon having specific expectations and of course the exodus from the island. The suitcase will carry, according to what we see, a Cuban girl’s imaginary in which the silhouette of the island, the sky and the family are fundamental, as well as the political creed already set up since an early age in which figures like José Martí, Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara are in the firmament like Catholic deities. The fact of traveling, of moving to another space, generates an interesting setting to link the imaginary and to confront expectations with realities. The moment of the arrival to that yearned or imagined horizon resume these circumstances. This is the reason why I would like to end my comments on
Internal Landscapes with the work Estupor del Cubanito en Territorio Ajeno (Little Cuban speechless in alien territory, 2000) by José Bedia. This piece, expressive and touching as all this artist’s work, might be the proper colophon for an exhibition that evokes the many and diverse frustrations, longings, dreams and nightmares of these artists that are but a few among those reflected in the collective and individual horizons of the rest of Cubans.
JUAN CARLOS ALOM − Los bañistas o Nacidos para ser libres (Bathers, or Born to Be Free), 2012 / Thirteen inkjet prints on photographic paper DIANGO HERNÁNDEZ − El acuario de Ernesto (Ernesto's Aquarium), 2016 / Oil on canvas and aluminum frame on six panels
Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, gifts of Jorge M. Pérez / Courtesy the artist and Pérez Art Museum Miami
MANUEL PIÑA − Untitled (4/10), from the series Aguas baldías (Empty Waters), 1992-1994 / Digital chromogenic print / Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, gift of Jorge M. Pérez YOAN CAPOTE − Island (see-escape), 2010 (Detail) / Oil, nails, and fishhooks on jute, mounted on plywood / Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, museum purchase with funds
provided by Jorge M. Pérez
Courtesy the artists and Pérez Art Museum Miami