Photo Essays

Cuban Artists Find Escape and Entrapment in the Sea

On the Horizon: Internal Landscapes is the first exhibition in a series dedicated to contemporary Cuban art at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, following a massive donation of work from the region.

Yoan Capote, “Islands (see-escape)” (2010), oil, nails, and fishhooks on jute, mounted on plywood (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

MIAMI — Last November, Jorge M. Pérez, real estate developer and board member of the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), continued his patronage of the museum with a $15 million donation to be gifted over the next decade — $5 million for the acquisition of work by Latin American artists, $5 million for the acquisition of additional works, and 200 pieces from Pérez’s massive Cuban art collection.

A few years ago, I interviewed Pérez about his private art collection, which takes up nearly every inch of his sprawling home. Touring his villa was akin to exploring a funhouse, searching for work to pop out in unexpected places — in closets, along the wall near the driveway, at the feet of still more art. In a city where the sentiments of the developers don’t always align with the institutions they represent, Pérez is, in some ways, an exception. The man loves art, especially Latin American and Cuban art, with a fervor that leaves him barely able to contain himself when he discusses it.

It’s unsurprising that his donation to the PAMM is massive, with many of the works migrating to the museum’s permanent collection, and others becoming part of a three-part installation: On the Horizon: Internal Landscapes (June 9, 2017–September 10, 2017), which examines the horizon as it relates to the body and self; Abstracting History (September 21, 2017–January 7, 2018), a show of abstract art reflecting on political and spiritual history; and Domestic Anxieties (January 18–April 8, 2018), a set of works exploring architecture and everyday spaces as sources of emotion and duress. Pérez’s donation contains works by Cuban artists both on the island and who are part of the diaspora, living in Miami and elsewhere.

 

Jorge & Larry, “Unique Pieces from the Collection: Relics of the Tatar Princess” (2015-16), mixed media; Roberto Fabelo, “Caldosa #1” (2015), engraving on metal pot; Manuel Mendive Hoyos, “Energías I” (2o13), acrylic on wood; José Bedia, “Imitación de vuelo” (1990), painted textile and acrylic on canvas
Manuel Mendive Hoyos, “Energías I” (2o13), acrylic on wood; José Bedia, “Imitación de vuelo” (1990), painted textile and acrylic on canvas; Juan Roberto Diago, “Un hijo de Dios” (2011), mixed media on canvas
Jorge & Larry, “Unique Pieces from the Collection: Relics of the Tatar Princess” (2015–16) (detail)
Diango Hernandez, “El acuario de Ernesto” (2016), oil on canvas and aluminum frame on six panels

Water features throughout Internal Landscapes; separated by various seas, the artists explore what it’s meant — for each of them — to cross certain thresholds, whether literal or metaphysical. In the narrative of migrants and border-crossing, the ocean is a boundary between and conduit to “othered” lands, filled with hope and danger: Gory’s (Rogelio López Marín) photographic series, “Es solo agua en la lágrima de un extraño (It’s Only Water in the Teardrop of a Stranger)” superimposes the image of a pool ladder descending into dark water onto a variety of scenes — a parked car, a subway station. In Luis Cruz Azaceta’s “Caught,” a man floats in a boat, his face frozen in a scream and arms raised in vulnerable surrender, surrounded on all sides by blades and machetes.

Gory, “Es solo agua en la lágrima de un extraño” (1986–2015), black-and-white negative film, photomontages, and digital chromogenic prints

“Caught” has an inadvertent soundtrack: Antonia Wright screaming at the bottom of a pool in her video “I Scream, Therefore I Exist,” while swimmers above the water are oblivious to her shrieks. The idea of concurrent realities — one leisurely, another desperate — in just one space is an intrinsic component of the immigrant experience, to be sure, though it’s also part of living in the economically and socially disparate United States.

Yoan Capote, “Aperture” (2014-15), mixed media, including handmade steel scissors and display case
Yoan Capote, “Islands (see-escape)” (2010) (detail)

Yoan Capote’s “Island (see-escape)” (2010) — which will become part of the museum’s permanent collection — is an emblem for the exhibition: a massive sea comprised of half a million plywood-mounted fish hooks, sourced and shaped by members of Capote’s community in Havana. Viewed from across the room, it’s beautiful, the sky shades of ice cream colors; up-close, the dense, sharp material alludes to what Capote once said in an interview with The Brooklyn Rail while discussing a larger series of works utilizing fish hooks: “I was reflecting…about the term ‘Iron Curtain.’ I remember thinking, In Cuba we don’t need a wall — our iron curtain is the sea.”

Elizabet Cerviño, “Beso en tierra muerta” (2016), handmade clay bricks; “Horizontes”(2013) from the series “Nieblas,”  gesso on linen

I was most struck by Elizabet Cerviño’s “Beso en tierra muerto (Kiss on dead ground),” a cluster of handmade clay bricks shaped like the waves of the ocean. Maritza Lacayo, part of PAMM’s curatorial team, informed me that the bricks take the form of cursive lettering from a poem Cerviño hand-wrote herself. Manifested into waves, her words are carried like the sea, a very literal display of the exhibition’s use of water as metaphor — an ocean that creates borders and washes them away, too.

Elizabet Cerviño, “Beso en tierra muerta” (2016) (detail)
Rubén Torres Llorca, “Remedio para el mal de ojo” (2004), mixed media
Rubén Torres Llorca, “Remedio para el mal de ojo” (2004) (detail)

On The Horizon: Internal Landscapes continues at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (1103 Biscayne Blvd, Miami) through September 10. The three-part installation On Horizon continues through April 8, 2018; see the museum website for more. 

 

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