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Luis Cruz Azaceta

About Luis Cruz Azaceta

b. Havana 1942. Lives and works in New Orleans and New York.

Since the 1980s, Cuban contemporary art has prompted changes in the ongoing cultural dialogue: about the cultural dimensions of cubanidad, the Cuban essence; the internationalization of Cuban art; and the nomadic condition, not only of numerous artists, but of art production itself. The parameters of this dialogue have driven Cuban “Art History” to reevaluate both the poetics and the creative phenomena that question, unavoidably, the cognitive maps of cubanidad, traced under the ever-present weight of the political.

This implies a certain understanding: that “precisely the subjective link that relates a Cuban who lives in the island with another who resides in Miami, and these two with a third who tries to survive in Madrid, goes beyond the tangible space they inhabit or see themselves kept from inhabiting, and even beyond their possible ideological differences. What unites them (even in their probable political disjunction) is their sense of belonging to something that cannot be seen, but rather felt. In such cases, the nation surpasses the palpable limits of the archipelago to become that lucid image that Ana López has proposed for understanding the dialectics of this phenomenon: the image of a Greater Cuba” (García Borrero, 2006, 4).

This proposal of analysis has been preceded by investigations in other fields, including the Cuban and Cuban-American literatures of the diaspora, and art exhibitions such as Historia de un viaje, Artistas Cubanos en Europa (History of a Journey, Cuban Artists in Europe, Valencia, 1997). But the work of Cruz Azaceta, Ana Mendieta, Félix González Torres, and other artists still awaits the inclusive academic vision that would expose the personal aspect of their creations as well as the dialogue that they established—even in absence—with the art currently being made in the island.

Exiled in the United States since 1960, Cruz Azaceta, as well as his art, is rooted in his condition as a Cuban New Yorker. Other Cuban artists working from the perspective of exile may take on Cuban themes and the anti-academic modernism of the 1930s and 1940s as a way to hold on to a country that they deem lost. But Cruz Azaceta absorbed the artistic practices of the new postmodernism—elaborated by such artists as Schnabel, Salle, Longo, Baselitz, and Immendorf—and creatively reworked them, making a contribution still insufficiently recognized by critics.

Cruz Azaceta’s attitude positions him close to the neo-figurative practices of some areas of Argentinean and Colombian art related to resistance and memory in the face of the social violence exerted by the anti-insurgent dictatorships. Each work intentionally turns into a lash on the moral conscience of humanity: "I paint what I see around me, and I look with an accusing eye on what Man has created... death, death is the absolute truth we possess... I paint to kill death, and also to kill cruelty, injustice, violence, ignorance, and hypocrisy” (Goodrow, 1998).

Consciously indebted to Bacon, Beckmann, Goya, Picasso, Orozco, and Kahlo, his visceral expressionism links Cruz Azaceta to other Cuban artists such as Antonia Eiriz, Ángel Acosta León, and Humberto Castro. Shocked by the number of Cubans that have disappeared in the Florida Straits aboard precarious sea craft, Cruz Azaceta imagines the rafter in La Casita 2 (The Little House 2) as a Robinson Crusoe without an island, who carries in his boat his cultural references as well as the motives of his escape: Polaroid pictures with images of food. Reflecting an approach similar to Kcho’s rafts, the event is not set as a melodramatic chronicle, but as subtle metaphor, achieved through contemporary expressive tools. The rafter’s face—which by its dimensions and plasticity stands out from the whole—is a peculiar self-portrait of the artist, an “I” that becomes plural (as in the works of Tonel or Sandra Ramos), and so has been repeated in each canvas as an icon of suffering. Driven to the sea by need or by the illusion of unsatisfied desire, the image of the seafarer is also a representation of human loneliness.

—Abelardo Mena Chicuri