What Is, What Is Not, and What Is Without Being, 1999
1999 La Huella Multiple (The Multiple Imprint), Centro de Desarollo de las Artes Visuales, Havana.
2007 (Oct 7-Dec 31) 2007 (May 29-Sep 9) Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection, Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection, John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL
2009 (Oct 3-Jan 4) Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection, Jordan Schnitzer Museum, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR
2010 (Oct 15-Jan 10) Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
2010 (Feb-Apr 4) Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection, Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL
2010 (Jun 27-Sep 19) Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection, Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, NY
Abelardo Mena Chicuri, Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection (University of Florida Press, 2007).
b. 1966, resides in Cuba
The acknowledgement and tracing of homoerotic themes in contemporary Cuban art is a relatively new process (Santana, 2000). The few investigations into this marginalized but inalienable facet of Cuban national culture have focused on literature or Afro-Cuban religions. This is due to a lack of pressure by publicly recognized social groups committed to unveiling the “other” history of Cuban art, as well as the slow progress of cultural studies.
The queer images produced during the last few years do not strive overtly for a vindication of homosexual rights. Nor do they call for sexual diversity in mass-media representations of the family. Rather than the activism exemplified by North American groups like ACT UP, these works reflect a different range of tactics: resisting and deconstructing heterosexual body norms; utilizing an aestheticized, art-historicized presentation of traditional myths to accomplish these tasks; and denouncing the violence imposed on masculinity by phallocratic and patriarchal ideologies. (A lesbian perspective on textual deconstruction appears frequently in Cuban literary narratives; in the visual arts, however, it is practically nonexistent.)
Since 1992, Eduardo Hernández Santos has been the Cuban artist to focus most intensively in this field. Hernández graduated from the Superior Institute of Art (ISA) as a printmaker; his beginnings as a photographer were influenced by the work of artist maudit Robert Mapplethorpe, who appropriated numerous images from Italian Mannerism and 19th-century academicism. Hernández quickly developed his own style, nurtured by a singular sensibility and a profound knowledge of art history. From the unique, studio-produced photographic image, his work evolved toward collage and the interaction between photography and mixed media.
The collage Lo que es… was exhibited in La Huella Múltiple (The Multiple Imprint, 1999) thanks to artist-curator Belkis Ayón, who praised it warmly. It belongs to a set of pieces made since 1994. The long horizontal format recalls the 19th-century panoramas and landscapes that avidly sought to document cities in a multiplicity of detail, or to record the irruption of new technologies in rural spaces. This piece, however, meticulously constructs an ambiguous urban space using images cut from art books: Florentine domes and palazzos, German baroque buildings, Flemish engravings, and Dürer’s rhinoceros, mingled with nudes shot by Hernández himself. There are references to Havana architecture, including the Capitol, the 18th-century cathedral, and La Fuente de la India, the Fountain of the Indian Woman, a well-known landmark. Usually intended to disrupt the unity of the pictorial space, the multiple pieces of this collage surprisingly blend together in a visual continuum that corresponds to no identifiable city. This is not Alejo Carpentier’s “City of Columns,” nor Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s nocturnal Vedado, nor Severo Sarduy’s baroque evocations. Judging from the stylistic references, these could be fragments of a neoclassical metropolis such as the area of Havana close to Central Park, or some views of Rome, or even Buenos Aires.
But Hernández does not concern himself with any kind of geographical identification. We have arrived at a dream city, where desire feverishly prowls the streets. It is a place still unconquered by the cholera-ridden, AIDS-plagued hordes, gripped by mistrust and a clinical coldness. The sodomizing of Dürer’s rhinoceros, Christ descending from the Cross surrounded by male nudes, the images of bodies tortured or transformed into the Three Graces, Saint Sebastians, and other icons of beauty are the marks of a city where “there is no public regulation, no control over intimacy. The generic body, unconcerned by established limits, lays as a joyous victim of pleasure and pain, desire and fear” (Santana, 2002).
Along with René Peña, Marta María Pérez, Magdalena Campos-Pons, Cirenaica Morera, Elsa Mora Fors, Abigaíl González, and Alain Pino, Eduardo Hernández creates a post-photographic body of work whose concepts stray from the authoritative canon that was still in place in the 1980s: the so-called photography “of the Revolution.”
Also known in Cuba as “epic” photography, the images shot in the 1960s by Corrales, Korda, Agraz, Noval, Ernesto Fernández, Romero, and Salas documented the birth of a new historical protagonist—the proletarian and peasant body, armed and uniformed—as well as an urban space made hierarchical: the revolutionary square, the place where the masses identified with the leaders of the Revolution. Photographs from that era featured broad panoramic views, or used what Henri Cartier Bresson termed “the decisive moment” to highlight “typical” anonymous faces or parts of the body related to military or productive functions. The titles were generic and avoided personal identification. For a nation on a perpetual wartime footing, publication of those photographs in such newspapers as Revolución, Granma, and Cuba Internacional invited the reader to identify with the image as if looking in a mirror.
But this photographic narrative did not enter the intimacy of domestic spaces—also contested territory between old and new ideologies—nor did it focus on the city as a node of social contradictions. It closed its doors to the expressive use of semantic ambiguities, and reinforced the idea of a straightforward photographic “truth.” What was called the “view of the defeated”—members of the bourgeoisie, professionals, technical specialists, as well as practitioners of “improper conduct” such as hippies, transvestites, homosexuals, and the lumpenproletariat—remained out of camera range. In Cuba, the police mug shot and the amateur snapshot are still uncharted territories where those presences, ignored in the collective inspiration of that long-ago moment, may someday be traced.
—Abelardo Mena Chicuri