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The Permanent Journey

The Permanent Journey / © Foto: José A. Figueroa

Dreams and Experiences of Ten Contemporary Cuban Artists

11 November 2023 - 7 January 2024
Galerie Ron Mandos, Amsterdam
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Curator: Cristina Vives
Co-curator: Lars Been

Belkis Ayón, Alejandro Campins, Yoan Capote, José A. Figueroa, Fernando Rodríguez Falcón, Jacqueline Maggi, Marta María Pérez Bravo, René Francisco Rodríguez, Tomás Sánchez, Linet Sánchez Gutiérrez

Photo tour

The Permanent Journey

Curatorial text by Cristina Vives

Generally connected to the sole idea of migration, traveling has been a permanent topic in Cuban art and literature, and in the study of our identity. In its closest sense of physical displacement, or as action of embarking on a project, or even as metaphor of an escape from the present and construction of a future, traveling, under the present circumstances of the Cuban context, frequently means abandoning the island and not returning. Thus understood, the journey may appear as the circle of personal, economic, political or ideological conflicts. Always influenced by the ideology and politics, traveling has always been a frequent theme in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Cuban families scattered today in very diverse latitudes, and naturally, a topic of conflicts and radical rupture between generations of Cubans.

Tomás Sánchez: Orilla y cielo gris. 1995
Acrylic on linen; 60 x 90 cm. Private collection.
© Foto: Courtesy by the organizers

However, the journey is indeed more than that. It is a particular capacity of human beings to extend the borders of their minds and bodies. This is especially notorious when these human beings are artists. They can travel into themselves and exit, go back and forth from their specific geographies with the help of their imagination or spirit; and even if the trip never takes place, they are able to transmit to us that sense of freedom that is present in any attempted journey.

Thinking “the journey” is also undertaking it. It is an exercise of cognitive and spiritual preparation. A permanent learning about our immediate environment and about ourselves. It demands from us the reasons or pretended intentions we have to achieve it, and many times makes us reconsider the here and now of our lives. Nothing closer to undertaking a trip than to place ourselves in the depths of the space and time we have to live.

See the four sections

Four sections

Conceived as four sections, the The Permanent Journey explores, without exhausting them, some of the concepts of journey that appear in the work of ten of the most outstanding contemporary Cuban artists. Each one of them traces possible roads to cover – in fact, they have covered them – and therefore the authenticity of the life experience they transmit. The Permanent Journey asks the artists what a journey is, and the answers are in their works and lives.

Yoan Capote, Fernando Rodríguez Falcón, José A. Figueroa

Loss, Memory and Displacements

To migrate seems to be the nearest option for hundreds of thousands of Cubans who add to the world drama that characterizes the geopolitical north and south of the Planet. Given its geographical condition – better defined as island – Cuba faces the sea, and going beyond it is the most literal concept of a journey. The sea is the physical border of the island, the one that unites or separates it from the Americas and the rest of the world, depending on the periods and political circumstances that have defined it as nation. In fact, in its recent history the sea has been the main corridor for the fate of hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants, destinations mainly dramatic and irreversible. For a Cuban, the sea can be indistinctly connection and isolation, escape and bond, success and failure, but almost in every case it has involved an important amount of loss. In its symbolic dimension, the sea and the very geography of the island have been protagonists of a large part of the cultural production of the nation and particularly of its visual arts, especially in times of cyclical crisis in the country since 1959 (year of empowerment of the Revolution) and its successive processes of political radicalization. Those excluded from the social project, the misfits and the detractors, and above all those exhausted or disappointed with the promised process have marked the successive migratory waves for more than 60 years. They are not only the statistics of the political or economic failure but the fragmentation, repeatedly, of families and histories. Each migrant is a loss. His traces remain in the memory of those who do not move, who remain in the island and await with uncertainty news about the future of those who leave and about their own future. For many of those who migrate it is essential to carry traces of their past. Memory, loss, sense of belonging and uncertainty are some of the many elements of these journeys and are central thoughts in the works of José A. Figueroa, Yoan Capote, and Fernando Rodríguez, who deal at the same time with the other’s drama and their own.

Works by José A. Figueroa, Yoan Capote, Fernando Rodríguez Falcón

Belkis Ayón and Marta María Pérez Bravo

History and Destiny: The African Legacy

Migrants from Europe and Africa were the fathers of the Cuban nation and historical and spiritual components of it. With very different roles, they merged along three centuries in a heartbreaking process of imposition, violence, compulsory exchange, gradual interconnection, and defended rights, finally consolidated in a new identity. It is impossible to dissect that fusion in its constituent elements. To ponder any of its components would simplify the richness of the fusion itself and burden its significance as historical improvement. To revisit that history should not be a journey of reparation of any of its parties, but a two-way journey, a foundational act as basis for the interpretation of the present and construction of the future. Marta María Pérez Bravo and Belkis Ayón did it in two recent moments of the history of contemporary Cuban art, though urged by different purposes. Marta María, a 1984 graduate from the Higher Institute of Art of Havana, center of the country’s cultural scenario, played a leading role in the renewal of the artistic languages and to a certain extent, of a period of relaxation of the rigid cultural policies of the preceding 70s. The spirituality – religious or not – the individuality and the expression of the identity without political contents were part of the artistic research and theoretical platforms from which to act upon society. Belkis, graduated from the same institute but in 1991, saw the collapse of the European socialist countries and of the social project in her country, including the cultural project molded by the preceding decade. Both of them, in different historical times, revisited the spiritual and religious legacy of the nation, studied its African and European components, and used their own bodies as repositories of those components. They appropriated those narratives and symbolical elements and used them as useful tools to self-acknowledge and express themselves. They distanced themselves from all exoticism and manipulation of gender, race or belief, and most significant, they undertook a liberation journey that today remains unfinished.

Works by Marta María Pérez Bravo and Belkis Ayón

Linet Sánchez, Jacqueline Maggi, Alejandro Campins

The Inner Journey: Conscience, Refuge, and Protection

Looking inside oneself is one of the human being´s most complex and risky personal challenges, since it demands will, intellectual capacity and courage. For an artist, looking inside himself implies an immersion into the very act of creation, where he must find out why and how the object or idea he will produce will be the most accurate way to communicate with the outer world. He will not always be able to express it in words, but it appears in the works and totally depends of the extent and quality of his living experience. It is in this glance inside the artistic creation when we amplify the very concept of journey that lies beyond the displacement or immovability. Although we cannot isolate the works from the immediate circumstances in which we produce them, we should not ignore the diversity of their ingredients, since they are much more numerous and come from different sources without excluding that “genetic element” we call talent. In order to understand the itinerary of such creative journeys, it is advisable to always appeal to the voice of their creators in the first person, since they usually provide the keys to their inner processes. When trying to define those processes, they sharpen their senses and tell us: “…our entire experience develops in our mind, and there we are alone…” (Linet Sánchez); “…it is a long process that started when I decided to travel with my mind…” (Alejandro Campins); “…I started by carrying almost nothing but my hands and looking for a place to call ‘home’ (Jacqueline Maggi); “…when painting, I fully realize that all I am painting is conscience…” (Tomás Sánchez).

Works by Alejandro Campins, Linet Sánchez, Jacqueline Maggi, Tomás Sánchez

René Francisco Rodríguez

The Uncertainty: a Journey to the Future

Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt´s film SWAMP (1971) opens with a disembodied male voice and a landscape in motion. “Just walk in a straight line,” the man directs, as the camera advances tentatively towards an expanse of tall grasses. “I think, I think I am,” replies an unseen woman, the camera inching forward into the reeds. “Straight in…to that clump,” the man continues. “It’s okay, Nan, you’re on fairly solid ground. Straight in. Just go right in.…”. Holt seems to follow Smithson’s orders, but the confusion faced by the artist on the set, camera in hand, is such that it totally frustrates the tour. There seems to be no way out.

The video “Entropía” made by René Francisco Rodríguez in 2015 in 3D animation simulates the sinuous and dramatic tour of a monumental city turned into a chaotic urban framework, similar to the Smithson and Holt marsh used as reference. The city recreated by René Francisco alludes to the eclectic architecture of Havana, a city where the grandeur of its constructions survives next to the present impairment, poverty, and vandalism. The video is a useless struggle, with the artist trying to find a way out he cannot even offer in the last seconds. The appropriation of the SWAMP sound on top of the labyrinthine scenario of Havana juxtaposes two circumstances that meet: they both leave the same sensation of deception and despair unsolved for both Smithson and Holt, as well as for a possible journey to the future of the country recreated by René Francisco.

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Galerie Ron Mandos
Prinsengracht 282
1016 HJ Amsterdam
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© Texts: Cristina Vives
© Cover photo: José A. Figueroa, From the series Exilio: Olga, Havana. 1967 (detail)
© Photos courtesy by the organizers

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