b. 1964, resides in the United States
Cuban art in the 1980s made an unprecedented contribution to the relationship between culture and society in the “popular democracies” [known in the West as Communist nations]. While the cultural bureaucracies in the U.S.S.R. had imposed an “art for the people” opposed to experimentation, Cuba developed an art of incisive social content and contemporary aesthetics. Its creators were the children of the proletariat and the peasants, educated in the state system. Conscious of being “the people,” these artists rejected the paternalistic imagery of Socialist Realism. They claimed as their audience a critical viewership with a high level of education fostered by the state. The artists’ themes were the social contradictions of Cuban culture, the distance between the ideal and reality, and the bureaucratization of thinking.
The irreverent attitude of this new Cuban art made its mark on recent cultural history. During the 1960s, the authorities clamored for an art “within the Revolution,” but in 1971 they imposed pro-Soviet paradigms in the fields of art, aesthetics, and economics (Alonso, 1995). A group within the 1980s generation proposed a more consciously critical art: not “within the Revolution” but “from the Revolution,” with no permission required. Diverse social currents converged as the catalyst for this unprecedented stance: the so-called “rectification of negative tendencies,” the ideological revival of Che Guevara, Gorbachev’s perestroika, the return of Cuban soldiers from Angola, “Case Number One” (the 1989 drug trial of General Arnaldo Ochoa and other military officers), and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Without the pressures of a then-nonexistent market, art became a space for discussing social issues that was absent from the mass media. Apropos of a song by troubadour Carlos Varela, musical spokesman of the time, the artists who pursued this new direction were called Los Hijos de Guillermo Tell: The Children of William Tell (Mosquera, 1990).
By the late 1980s, Glexis Novoa had created a body of work ranging from prints to performances, and had participated in several artists’ groups. His art fit easily into the burgeoning movement. Like a Trojan horse, De la Etapa Práctica (On the Practical Stage) was calibrated against the empty rhetoric of political language, its rituals and aesthetics. It parodies the visual rhetoric used in mass demonstrations, where effigies of martyrs of the Revolution or historical figures, flags, and slogans are positioned before the audience on high wooden platforms. Novoa absorbs this style of communication and regurgitates it as a personal language, already internalized. The piece mixes visual codes from Japanese manga, advertising, Nazi propaganda from the Nuremberg rallies, and the aesthetics of Soviet Socialist Realism. The letter-icons have been designed by the artist himself, but the cryptic, indeterminate character of this pseudo-alphabet makes all communication impossible. In a parody of the abstract movement, the paint has been applied in the spontaneous style of Abstract Expressionism, attesting to the “artificial” character of the pictorial space.
References: Seppala, Marketta, ed., No Man is an Island: Young Cuban Art, May 1990, Pori Museum, Finland. Camnitzer, Luis, New Art from Cuba, 1994; reprint, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003, illust. p. 235.
—Abelardo Mena Chicuri