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Cuban Artists Around the World

April 1st, 2019.


Cimarron: beyond uprooting and cryolization

We might read the work of Jorge Salomón (Matanzas, Cuba, 1987) as a result of his personal relationship with the cultural miscegenation that derives from his origin and his education. Born in Matanzas, cradle of the traditionally romantic Danzon — the national dance of Cuba — and the rhythmic Guaguancó — a product of the city's preeminence as the undisputed center of Afro-Cuban culture — Solomon's work welcomes heterogeneous configurations of relationships and links that open the reading / translation towards a kind of dynamic connections that go through different resolutions and formats. I think it would not be possible, therefore, to encapsulate this work in a direction to approach or describe the hybridity of the relations and currents of the different states of its form.

In his recent presentation at the Havana Biennial in Matanzas, Solomon stood out as the great revelation of the exhibition with large-scale “paintings” that directly addressed different aspects, relationships and offerings to the Ocha-Ifá Rule (Santería of Yoruba origen, Nigeria). As a practicing babalawo (Santero priest), Solomon presented a confluence of images and precarious materials, between mats of plant fibers that are “the ceiling, the bed and the table” of babalawo and the coal that represents the beginning and the end. This work originates in the essence of the secrets of the artist's ancestors — secrets never revealed — and respect for the manifestations of his religion. Thus, the work is not a product of acculturation, but of transculturation, a process of cultural transformation that emerges between the influence of new cultural elements, contradictions and struggles (slavery, colonization) and the loss, modifications and adjustments ( syncretism, cryolization) of existing cultural elements. Undoubtedly, this work also suggests references - both in its format and in its visual language - with contemporary Cuban art (José Bedia, Manuel Mendive) and American Abstract Expressionism as well as with European Informalism, but it would be a mistake to strip it of its complexity to attend to “influences," "derivatives" or "illustrations" at the expense of the richness of its relationships and cultural variations.

The individual presentation that the Leyendecker Gallery proposes for ARCO / Lisbon, displays, in this sense, a space composed of heterogeneous elements that goes back as much to the closed universe of slavery and plantations as to harmonies and disharmonies, interferences and confrontations where beliefs, languages ​​and forms fall apart in baroque copiosity while multiplying and singling out. Under the title of Cimarrón, the exhibition wants to be a kind of homage to the figure of the "African slave who broke his chains and rose to the mountain seeking freedom", only accompanied by his religion and his machete. Solomon interweaves the colonial narrative of the Cimarron  and Apalencados (Cimarrons that founded autonomous villages called Palenques) from a poetic of fragility and survival that is branched and culturally rhizomatized in the unpredictable interaction between the encounter, the clash and the miscegenation, despite the uprooting and dispossession of slavery.

José Toirac in Harvard

On view March 18, 2019 to October 19, 2019
Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm
DRCLAS, CGIS South, 2nd Floor, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 

Curated by Curator and Art Critic, Octavio Zaya | Advised by Alejandro de la Fuente,

The exhibition is part of the DRCLAS Cuba Studies Program’s activities related to the 60thanniversary of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, and it will be part of DRCLAS’s contributions to the 2019 Latin American Studies Association Annual Conference this May

Since early 1990s, José Toirac has been a well-known artist in Cuba, even if his unassuming and reserve personality didn’t propel him into instant fame and the recognition that was granted to other artists from his generation. Despite the obvious political irony of his paintings and drawings, or perhaps because of it, José Toirac was awarded last year’s National Prize of Fine Arts in Cuba while we were preparing his presentation at DRCLAS, a much deserved acknowledgment to his independent career that is finally catching up with what we understand as his “political poiesis.” He brings that irony mainly through the juxtaposition and combination of political and advertisement iconographies, but he is never explicit in his intentions, and his work is always full of nuances and successful pairings and encounters.

On the one hand, the exhibition presents 10 drawings that anticipate his rather successful and recognized series of paintings Tiempos Nuevos (New Times, 1996). Like his more famous and acclaimed paintings, these drawings bring together the iconographic public figure of Fidel Castro along with well-known and globalized adds from worldwide famous brands, such as Opium perfume by Yves Saint Laurent, Marlboro, or Benetton, etc. Perhaps Toirac is underlying the commercial component of politics, and perhaps he is equating commercial brands with the charismatic and selling potential of celebrities such as Castro. 

On the other hand, the exhibition introduces a collection of new works—originally published in the book Parables (2017) along religious poems by Robert Gluck inspired by the Bible—to highlight, once again, the juxtaposition of religion and politics, theocracy and cult of personality, through known public images of the late Cuban leader, etc. All together, they represent the beginning of an overdue introduction of Toirac’s work in Harvard.

Octavio Zaya is an independent art curator, writer and editor. He has been Director of Atlántica Journal for the last 18 years. He has curated more than 40 exhibitions for more than 17 museums throughout the world, including the Guggenheim Museum, New York (1976) and the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid (2000, 2001, 2018). He participated at the First and Second Johannesburg Biennales (1995, 1997), and was a curator of Documenta 11 (2002). He curated Spain’s Pavilion at the 55th Biennale di Venezia (2013). More recently he curated the largest retrospective of Luis Camnitzer at the Museo Reina Sofia (2018-2019), and he has been appointed Executive Director of the Cuban Art Foundation (2019).

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