The Farber Collection
Facebook Twitter RSS

Elsa Mora

About Elsa Mora

b. 1971, resides in the United States

In contrast to the work of Cuban female writers of the 1960s, invisible under the “epic” paradigms of post-Revolutionary literary history (Yáñez, 2000, 123), visual art by women in contemporary Cuba has been broadly reflected in the mass media and in exhibitions, as well as in catalogues and books. This reflection includes the presence of what has been called the “painted woman”—woman as both object and subject of art—in Cuban national iconography (De Juan, 1972, 38), as well as the visual discourses of women artists (Castellanos, 1998, 18) and a “different” version of the Cuban visual imagination expanded by the discourses of gender, race, and social groups. In this way, female artists internalized not only the egalitarian ideologies promoted by the state, which grants free access to artistic education, but also a certain amount of access—earned by their own efforts—to the “interpretive power” that circulates within Cuban culture and society.

Elsa Mora’s works have earned their own niche in the artistic production of the last decade. Like some of her female compatriots (María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Belkis Ayón, Gertrudis Rivalta, Marta María Pérez Bravo, Alicia Leal, Aymeé García), Mora does not align herself with an activism that criticizes the patriarchal ideologies present in the social fabric, nor does she vindicate her “difference” from the artistic discourse created by men. Her work flows serenely, following its own course. “She has experimented with very diverse techniques and languages, materials and media. In a constant drive towards self-realization, Elsa follows wherever the inspiration takes her, and she does it with ease and spontaneity” (Fuentes, 1998, 11).

Mora’s work was initially defined by small-format pieces; the assemblage of dissimilar materials and elements; an aged patina; and the use of texts within her pieces as complements to their titles. She later embarked on a photographic phase that utilized the body as a surface, a symbol of her own gender in particular and of human beings in general. The use of photographic prints gave way to digital techniques, already put into practice by several artists on the island. Mora subjected the medium to a self-contained but dramatic treatment, embodied in the series Perda do Sentido. It was inspired by the suicide in 1999 of Belkis Ayón, a Cuban artist and friend of Mora’s, with whom she had done a joint exhibition in New York barely a year before Ayón’s death. Absorbing the impact of a still-unexplainable loss, which shook the Cuban artistic community, Mora presents herself to the camera, her face transformed into a silent symbol of the tragedy. The piece’s title, scratched on her forehead, refers to the absurdity of the decision, the emptiness of purpose into which the suicide sinks. Covered in black makeup, with eyes wide open like Ayón’s, her face questions the viewer, transforming him or her into an uncomfortable witness of a doubting gesture. The hand—covered in leopard spots alluding to the Abakuá religion, which Ayón had been studying—muzzles the mouth’s lament, symbol of a personal tragedy that the departed artist suffered silently, sharing it with no one.

—Abelardo Mena Chicuri