I. 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 Falcón, who deal at the same time with the other’s drama and their own.

From the series Compatriots, “Reina Street”, Havana, 1972 | Gelatin silver print on Ilford multigrade paper | 50 x 40 cm (paper) 60 x 50 cm (passepartout)

José A. Figueroa

From the series That flag, Havana, May, 1970 | Gelatin silver print on Ilford multigrade paper | 50 x 40 cm (paper) 60 x 50 cm (passepartout)

José A. Figueroa

Nixon motherfucker, Havana, May, 1970 | Gelatin silver print on Ilford multigrade paper | 50 x 40 cm (paper) 60 x 50 cm (passepartout)

José A. Figueroa

From the series Exile, “Cojimar”, Havana, 1994 | Gelatin silver print on Ilford multigrade paper | 50 x 40 cm (paper) 60 x 50 cm (passepartout)

José A. Figueroa

José A. Figueroa

José A. Figueroa has explored with photography all the country’s historical stages uninterruptedly since the initial years of the Cuban Revolution as a middle-class family young man faced with the dramatic social changes of 1959 to our days. His work therefore covers six decades that go from the socialist utopia of the 60s and 70s with all the complexity involved in that process, up to the present reality when Cubans struggle between homesickness of the past, frustrations from the present and the uncertainty of the future, always based on his personal experience as artist based in Havana. He has left us a vision of the 60s that is little or scarcely known in the history of Cuban photography and still today absent in the official iconography of the Revolution.

From the series Havana Project, “Nacional Hotel", 1995 | Gelatin silver print on Ilford multigrade paper | 40 x 50 cm (paper) 50 x 60 cm (passepartout)

José A. Figueroa

From the series The Image, “Vedado”, Havana, 1992 | Gelatin silver print on Ilford multigrade paper | 40 x 50 cm (paper) 50 x 60 cm (passepartout)

José A. Figueroa

From the series My 60s, “The Kiss, Diana and Navarro”, 1966 | Gelatin silver print on Ilford multigrade paper | 40 x 50 cm (paper) 50 x 60 cm (passepartout)

José A. Figueroa

Carlos III Avenue, Havana, 1988 | Gelatin silver print on Ilford multigrade paper | 40 x 50 cm (paper), 50 x 60 cm (passepartout)

José A. Figueroa

Figueroa’s photographic essay Exilio (1965-1994) is perhaps one of his most eloquent series started in those years, based on the exhaustive photographic documentation of the migration to the United States of almost all his relatives and friends, in addition to the massive exodus by sea of more than 35 thousand Cubans in the summer of 1994. One of the first artists to document the permanent waves of Cuban migration since the early 60s, when public exhibitions or concerns on these issues were unthinkable in Cuban art, Figueroa’s photograph Olga, made in November 1967 at the age of 21 on the day of his mother’s definitive departure to the United States has been considered one of the best summaries of exile in Cuban photography and art.

Yoan Capote

When creating his objects, Yoan Capote always starts from an interaction with the viewer, from whom he demands an immediate reaction of his senses. Whether sculpture, installation or three-dimensional painting, each piece is sustained by its ability to awaken tactile, olfactory, sonorous and gestural sensations, real or suggested. Many of his works (found objects, reproduction of body parts) maintain the human scale; hence the immediacy of our reactions in the proximity of the referent. His dedication to the recovery of previous objects, the preservation of the original value of the materials that conform them and of the stories told by those objects and materials, connect us with transparent and direct ideas. That explains the clear reception of his messages.

Family Portraits, 2023 | Scratched mirror, wooden frame, shards of glass | Installation

Yoan Capote

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The tautological nature of the work titles leaves no space for doubts about their meaning or of the way in which he expresses it: daggers and assembled microphones are Impunity, a sea of fishing hooks is Requiem, a compass with no orientation is Drift, a prie-dieu covered with coastal rocks is Penitence. Island. Nothing more is required, so convincing are the ideas he defends. Following the same work methodology and intentions, his most recent works Drift and Family Portrait summarized two central ideas on the concept of journey. Drift refers to the feeling of uncertainty in the face of the new, the unknown, and the inability to control what is coming: the fortuitous. Family Portrait is the certainty of loss, absence, and the portion of reality and history we leave behind when embarking on a journey. Nostalgia, distance, absence, loneliness, are ideas mixed in the itinerary of the Cubans that for years have seen the journey as an option of no return.

Regarding the creative process and meaning of Family Portrait, the artist expressed: “This piece was conceived taking as reference the old domestic mirrors and classic family photos arranged in our intimate spaces. My intention is to work on the quicksilver on the back with archaeological delicacy, scraping and picketing it to discover the transparency of the glass while recording the image of the sea. On the right side of the horizon, I have cut the glass to invert the part of the sky against the wall, showing the quicksilver to the viewer, of a color that recalls the gray sky, while talking about those who are no longer there. The viewer is reflected on the water as those family members that remain fragmented, reminding us of the division, the inevitable distance and the memory of so many forgotten people and stories.”

About Drift. Elegy, Capote has said: “The shape of a compass needle has been fragmented creating an analogy with a coffin in one of its parts. The designed object resembles an ash recipient suspended by gravity and supported on a perfectly balanced point below. It allows the piece to stay moving for about 7 minutes after receiving the first touch from the viewer. The work is a reflection about the uncertainty and drama of migration, about death as a fatal possibility for many who never managed to find the north or reach their destination. This work is a tribute to all of them, but also a metaphor about life, its fragility and cycle.”

Drift. Elegy, 2023 | Steel compass needle on wooden platform Metal and ashes of remains found in the sea | 12 x 200 x 25 cm

Yoan Capote

Available

Untitled (detail)

Fernando Rodríguez Falcón

Fernando Rodríguez Falcón in duo with his blind fictional character Francisco de la Cal (born in Matanzas, ca. 1928), fellow citizen and a patriotic man according to Fernando, is one of the most interesting postmodern proposals in the recent history of the Cuban art that emerged in the ’90s. His work, frequently signed along with his alter ego De la Cal appears in all the bibliography, critical studies, international public and private collections, and contemporary Cuban art exhibitions to the present. Since 2010, the artist has been working obsessively, crushing and grinding documents and publications (Cuban art catalogues, political magazines, books on culture, among others) of interest to him. The pulp obtained becomes significant raw material, and the resulting abstract-looking works sarcastically transform the ideas contained in the originals into pieces of exquisite, decorative craft.

For his recent triptych Untitled he used pulp obtained from a 1976 National Atlas of Cuba. The work has a double purpose. On one hand, it is the attempt to preserve the island reproduced in the map and carry it with him, thus perpetuating the ties of Cubans with their native territory, regardless of their destiny. At the same time, however, by crushing and transforming the available material, Rodríguez Falcón reminds us that the aseptic geography left to us by the scientist’s vision no longer exists. Metaphorically speaking, it disintegrates in the same proportion its society does. It is now an abstraction. From this fragile territory, only the bubbles of the Caribbean Sea molded by the artist from the shapeless material remain, maintaining the blue shades of the map that the Cuban popular imagery connects with the color of identity.

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