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Armando Mariño

b. 1968, resides in USA

Beginning with his solo exhibition, Des-colon-izando el entorno (De-colon-izing the Environment, Wifredo Lam Center, 1996), Mariño’s art has revealed a unique take on the practice of parody and pastiche. Pedro Álvarez extracted the ireme, or Abakuá imp, from the costumbrista paintings of 19th-century artist Víctor Landaluze, making this figure a “star” among current cultural symbols; but Mariño created his own character, a well-built black man clothed only in short pants. This figure represents not only the artist’s own racially mixed identity, but the concept known in cultural studies circles as “the other:” a cultural opposite, beyond the bounds of Western art and civilization. (That concept, of course, includes Cuban and other Third World artists.)

Instead of walking the streets of Havana, Mariño’s black man explores the canon of Western pictorial art, examining these works as socially accepted markers of status and prestige, consecrated by museums, academies, and art critics. Through installations, sculptures, drawings, and paintings inspired by the tableau vivant and narrative academic painting, Mariño creates a fictional space—à la Woody Allen in The Purple Rose of Cairo—in which his character comes and goes without any difficulty, while relating in an “incorrect” manner to works in the Western artistic canon. It is a sarcastic approach to art as a space of power and exclusion.

Using each painting as an independent frame, in the style of a comic strip or graphic novel, Mariño places his character in a series of odd situations, in which the figure adopts irreverent, almost bizarre attitudes. He uses Marcel Duchamp’s urinal—a temple of the analytical tradition of modern art—to satisfy a physiological necessity, or fills it with basketballs swiped from a Jeff Koons work. He climbs into Marat’s bathtub to demand the rights of liberty, equality, and fraternity, or prepares to take flight like Icarus. (Whether he stays aloft or falls is left to the imagination of the viewer.)

“‘By cannibalizing images, styles, techniques, references, and inherited material’—explained the artist—‘I have tried to make visible the stereotypes and erroneous concepts that underlie certain narratives and discourses practiced by the Western world, and their relationship to the excluded ‘other’” (Mariño, 2006). With substantial doses of humor that mask a sincere reverence, Mariño does not propose a Taliban-style demolition of the paradigms of Western art, but a questioning of their assumed universality.

La Patera (The Raft) signaled a change in the artist’s direction, a transit point to different territories of expression. In this pastel—a sketch for an installation exhibited in the Eighth Havana Biennial in 2003—the character of the black man has disappeared, and so has the international stage of his adventures. The artist’s gaze now seems to return to the island in a tangential way. The word patera is used in Spain, where Mariño lives, to identify the narrow rafts of balseros who, coming from North Africa, perilously cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach the coast of Andalusia or the Canary Islands.

But Mariño is not alluding to this uninterrupted D-Day from south to north, with its social and political implications for the European community. Atop the numerous legs—all male—is the body of a vintage Oldsmobile car, old American technology kept alive in Cuba by the twin forces of love and recycling. These big American jalopies (called almendrones in popular slang) not only work locally as taxicabs, but also transport many people from the eastern provinces to Havana. Is the impossible conjunction of mechanical structure and human bodies a commentary on the unceasing, improvisatory creativity of Cubans, actively enthusiastic but disorganized due to constant material shortages? The body of the American car, symbol of both social prestige and the absence of Cuban technological renewal, will have to depend on the slow and disorganized movement of those feet, in a frustrated version of true progress: acceleration is impossible. Mariño’s image leaves room for ambiguity as it joins the many works of art that, since the Italian Futurist movement of the early 20th century, have made the automobile a paean to modern times.

References: Brochure, Armando Mariño, VIII Bienal de La Habana, Madrid, Spain, 2003, illust. Catalogue, Eighth Havana Biennial, Wifredo Lam Center, Havana, 2003, illust. p. 152. Herzberg, Julia P. “Octava Bienal de La Habana,” ArtNexus, No. 52, Miami, United States, 2004.

—Abelardo Mena Chicuri

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