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
2007 (Oct 7-Dec 31) 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
José Veigas-Zamora, et al., Memoria: Cuban Art of the 20th Century (Los Angeles: California / International Arts Foundation, 2001), p. 96. | Abelardo Mena Chicuri, Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection (University of Florida Press, 2007).
1994 Son Cubano(s), Galería Fúcares, Madrid.
1994 Horizontes de Cuba, Proyecto comisariado por Manuel García, Ateneo Mercantil de Valencia, Valencia.
1995 Cuba: La Isla Posible, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB), Barcelona.
1997 Historia de un viaje. Artistas Cubanos en Europa, Universidad de Valencia, Valencia.
2004 Nueva tecnología, nueva iconografía, nueva fotografía. Fotografía de los años 80 y 90 en la Colección del Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Museu d’ Art Espanyol Contemporani (MAEC), Palma de Mallorca; Museo de Arte Abstracto Español, Cuenca.
2007 Jano: la doble cara de la fotografía (Janus: The Double Face of Photography), Fondos de la Colección Permanente, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCRS), Madrid.
“Una costa y otra. El arte de las políticas exóticas,” Lápiz. Revista Internacional de Arte 111 (Madrid 1995), pp. 29, 30. Exposición en Barcelona: Cuba, la isla posible. Diseño Interior, nº. 45 (Madrid), pp. 67, 69, 1995. La Isla Posible, L´agenda de la imatge, nº. 1 (Barcelona) 1995. Todas las Cubas, A Barna, nº. 20 (Barcelona) 1995. L´Univers Cubá de la Tolerància. Avui. Cultura i Espectacles, 7 de abril (Barcelona) 1995. Cuba a Barcelona. Avui. Cap de setmana, 13 de abril (Barcelona) 1995. Son cubano(s). Página Abierta, nº. 42 (Madrid) 1994. Las dos Cubas. Como la cultura derriba la frontera. Ajoblanco, nº. 64 (Barcelona), pp. 18-22, 1994. El post-exilio y la post-guerra. Memoria de la Postguerra, nº. 2 (La Habana), pp. 1, 10. “Art in Cuba,” Miami New Times (June 9-15), p. 16. “Son Cubano. Arte Político,” El País Semanal 171 (Madrid 1994).” Son Cubano,” Primera Línea (Madrid 1994).
b. 1966, resides in Spain
On July 26, 1953, a group of young people led by Fidel Castro attacked the Moncada Garrison, headquarters of an army regiment in Santiago de Cuba. Their purpose was to start a mass rebellion against Fulgencio Batista’s regime, which had overthrown Carlos Prío’s constitutional government the year before. The assault failed. Many of the rebels were arrested in the barracks and the city streets, and Batista ordered that ten of them should be executed for each dead soldier. After atrocious torture, the mangled bodies of the rebels were dressed in uniforms and made to hold guns, then scattered around the barracks grounds so the press would report that they had been killed in combat. But Cuban photographer Panchito Cano, accompanying the journalist Marta Rojas, had taken pictures of the injured attackers before their torture and murder. He smuggled the exposed film out of the district, evading military censorship and giving lie to the official story. The images’ publication in the press had an impact on public opinion. A year later, Castro’s self-defense speech in the Moncada trial started circulating secretly under the title “History Will Absolve Me.” This military failure was transformed into a political manifesto, and the events of July 26 became, historiographically, the foundational act of the Revolution of 1959.
Better known for his decisive participation in the collective Angulo-Ballester-Toirac-Villazón (or ABTV, per Camnitzer, 2003, 188), since 1992 Ballester has produced, on his own, images that reject the documentary style that dominated Cuban photographic ideologies after the Revolution. Drawing on such strategies as appropriation, collage, and manipulation; the use of the artist’s studio as symbolic space; the conversion of the artist’s body into a visual symbol; repudiation of the Cartier-Bresson “decisive moment;” and the use of photographs as a record of performances, Ballester and other Cuban artists developed an alternative set of photographic practices. They rejected the view of “reality” as modeled by compositional, expressive, and ideological clichés. Instead, they proposed an intimate vision that substitutes or deconstructs reality—a deliberate erosion stimulated, in part, by the social devaluation of graphic journalism and press photography in Cuba, which were supplanted by the repetitive use of stock photos and stereotypical images.
Ballester does not undertake a critique of modernity and its foundations of unity and originality, but instead deconstructs the social rites behind the images. His intention is to rupture the opacity of historical narratives that take photography as proof of verisimilitude and as a product for social consumption. For this purpose, he selected one of the images taken by Panchito Cano during the Moncada events, and reconstructed it using his own body, pose, makeup, location, special effects, and focus, à la Cindy Sherman.
But if Sherman exposed the construct of “the feminine” in mass media, the frozen performance of the Cuban artist pointed to the re-appropriation of an historical event, which we could only see through the mediation of images broadcast by the mass media. The sacrifice of the anonymous fighter has been submitted to the violence of the spectacle, a component of any contemporary historical discourse that aspires to legitimate its myths and its forgetfulness.
Now living in Catalonia, Spain, Ballester is currently working in an open project called Enlloc—a Catalan word that means “nowhere”—in which he tackles nationalistic demagogies.
—Abelardo Mena Chicuri