II. 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.

From the series "Crossing", 2011 | Inkjet print on photographic paper | 70 x 70 cm (print), 90 x 90 cm (paper)

Marta María Pérez Bravo

From the series "Crossing", 2011 | Inkjet print on photographic paper | 70 x 70 cm (print), 90 x 90 cm (paper)

Marta María Pérez Bravo

From the series "Crossing", 2011 | Inkjet print on photographic paper | 70 x 70 cm (print), 90 x 90 cm (paper)

Marta María Pérez Bravo

From the series "Crossing", 2011 | Inkjet print on photographic paper | 70 x 70 cm (print), 90 x 90 cm (paper)

Marta María Pérez Bravo

Marta María Pérez Bravo

Faithful to the use of her body as a platform of identity, and always using photography as the final document of a larger process, the performative art practice of Marta María Pérez Bravo continues to be one of the greatest exponents of the symbiosis of European and African cultures in the insular Caribbean. The series Travesía (Crossing) merges two moments of a single process: the one in which it is no longer possible to separate the black face from the white one because the former African mask ceased to be one in order to become a new Cuban identity. The artist defines this process as follows: “In this series I make a juxtaposition of African masks attached to my own face, establishing a duality of identities based on the culture from which I come, a mixture of Africa and Cuba. The trip, the journey, always has an implicit uprooting, a personal tear, to face something new built on those same foundations.”

From the series "Crossing", 2011 | Inkjet print on photographic paper | 70 x 70 cm (print), 90 x 90 cm (paper)

Marta María Pérez Bravo

Available

Belkis Ayón 

Belkis Ayón committed suicide at the age of thirty-two, leaving behind an extraordinary body of work central to the history of contemporary printmaking. Ayón selected the Abakuá Secret Society as theme for her work. Originally from the Calabar region (currently Nigerian territory), it was African slaves that brought Abakuá to Cuba at the beginning of the 19th century. A fraternity created by men for men that stigmatized and segregated women – a secret society with strict discipline and ethics that safeguards an impregnable mystery surviving untouched the political and social-economic transformation of the Cuban nation. The artist hybridized Abakuá with primitive Christian elements and other religious references, historic periods and cultures that served as citation or symbolic excuse for constructing a universal discourse that railed against marginality, frustration, fear, censorship, violence, impotence, and lack of freedom.

“Princess Sikán can barely move in the mount, wounded by sharp branches buried in her skin like the arrows of Saint Sebastian. Her hands are chained, but the other two can be seen in the background and have a cross drawn on her palms; another hand points so clearly at one of the crosses that we cannot help noticing it: Sikán is sentenced to die.” (Cristina Vives. Cat. Belkis Ayón. Colografías, Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid, Nov. 2021).

This print of La Sentencia (edition 1/6 from 1993) was exhibited in the solo show Siempre vuelvo. Grabados de Belkis Ayón. Centro Provincial de Artes Plásticas y Diseño, Havana, 1993, and in the 34th Biennial of São Paulo, Brazil, 2021.

La sentencia (The Sentence), 1993 | Collograph | 96 x 67 cm

Belkis Ayón

Available

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