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Sandra Ceballos

About Sandra Ceballos

Guantánamo, Cuba 1961

On recalling works from the 1989 Havana exhibition, La bella y la bestia (Beauty and the Beast, Project Castillo de la Fuerza), or leafing through the 1995 catalogue of the Juan Francisco Elso Contemporary Art Award (National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana), one cannot fail to notice the peculiar position that Sandra Ceballos occupies in Cuban art. In these exhibitions, and in the 1993 show Absolut Jawlensky (Galería Habana), Ceballos proclaims her uniqueness among the essential figures in contemporary Cuban art. Even that outsider of Cuban art par excellence, Ezequiel Suárez, at times seems a little cowed by her towering presence.

Ceballos’s poetic decision to delve into the the universe of the scatological, the morbid, the grotesque, the forbidden, and the ill joins her to a Cuban tradition fostered by such outstanding artists as Antonia Eiriz and Santiago (Chago) Armada. Ceballos’s sensibility marks her as a direct descendant of their “pedigree of horror,” not only in her work as an artist but in her roles as curator and art promoter, so necessary for expanding the milieu of Cuban art.

Owing to her sensibility and poetics, Ceballos—who, graduating from San Alejandro in 1983, is part of the 1980s generation—has had to wait longer for critical understanding than some of her contemporaries. Many of her works, exhibitions, and curatorial projects have the force of an unexpected punch in the face. Ceballos doesn’t know the meaning of defeat, and her unwavering attachment to her aesthetic convictions has rooted her firmly in the Cuban cultural landscape.

La expresión sicógena (The Psychogenic Expression) was the title chosen for the solo exhibition of Ceballos’s art that was organized by the National Museum of Fine Arts in November-December 1996, in tribute to her having received the abovementioned Juan Francisco Elso Award the year before. The show boasted an impressive conceptual cohesion; strange, soft sculptures creating a world that bordered on illness and insanity. The gallery was infused with intense feelings of torment and repulsion, as if it were located in a malevolent sanatorium.

This piece, originally referred to as “Untitled” in the exhibition catalogue, was part of a series in which the green cloth of the operating room replaced the traditional canvas. The work seemed to represent the sacrifice of a human body. Surgical pins, intravenous tubing, fragments of medical records, all attached to an anonymous, unidentified body part, seemed to peek into the anguished agony of a particular if unknown person. Bits of evidence scattered in other works in the series indicated that this martyred body was female. The suspicion that it could be the artist’s own added another shock to that discovery. How could the artist bare her body, her pain in such a way? Was she trying to make us participate in the intimacy of illness? Why was she turning us into witnesses to the revolting imminence of death?

Bringing to the surface fragments of personal and family history—which were supposed to be held in the close custody of privacy and shame—was Ceballos’s way to communicate something beyond the physical and psychological state of an individual. It was also a statement against the limitations of art, and an affirmation of individual freedom, the exploration of the forbidden, of the need to speak about vertigo from the very brink of the abyss. Her work opened a space that had not existed in the context of the so-called “new Cuban art,” a perspective that enriches and universalizes it.

Ceballos is an artist focused on the rupture between the individual and his or her cultural context. She follows a lofty tradition that runs from Baudelaire to the Guatemalan Regina José Galindo—a lineage of artists determined to dig into the most equivocal, acerbic areas of human subjectivity. Ceballos, however, has extended this scrutiny beyond her own art, toward other areas of artistic activity or even those seemingly devoid of art, in search of new creators. Tirelessly fostering the emergence of art from the un-art, Ceballos seems to retaliate against the adversities of existence. It is for this reason that her intense, acerbic spirit does not bite its own tail, caught in an eternal, endless circle like a Möbius strip, but instead reaches out, fierce and unbound, in search of new battles and territories for art.

                                                                                        — Corina Matamoros Tuma