Curated by Orlando Hernández with kind thanks to the von Christierson Collection, coinciding with the 11th Havana Biennial, BREESE LITTLE presents a landmark exhibition of work by Cuban artists Elio Rodríguez and Douglas Pérez Castro. Both artists recently participated in the exhibitions Without Masks, National Gallery of Johannesburg, South Africa (2010) and Queloides: Race and Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art at the Mattress Factory museum, Pittsburgh, USA (2011). They are represented extensively in public and private collections across Europe, as well as USA and Cuba.
Venue: Breese Little, 30d Great Sutton Street, London, EC1V 0DU
Dates/Times: Show Runs: 25th May – 21st July *.|.* Thursday to Saturday, 12 – 6 pm
Orlando Hernández is an author, critic and curator In 2010, he curated the first Cuban art show in South Africa, Without Masks, which presents themes of Afro-Cuban culture and issues of race and identity. Previous publications include The Art Victims of Havana (2007), The Importance of Being Local (2005) and ‘The Pleasure of the Reference’, in Art Cuba: The New Generation, edited by Holly Block (2001).
The two modern concepts of “Carnivalization” and Antropofagia (“Cannibalism”) were both taken from ancient cultural practices and then transformed into metaphors for freedom and rebellion by the Russian Mijaíl Bajtin and the Brazilian Oswaldo de Andrade. These metaphors, as momentary tools of exploration, help us to identify common features in the work of two contemporary Cuban artists, Elio Rodríguez and Douglas Pérez.
Both these artists “carnivalize” everything they touch by turning it into celebration, chaos, performance, entertainment, and humour. They are capable of “cannibalising” and devouring everything they find in their way, in terms of style, language, expression, and even with regards to authors and movements in the history of art.
Such observations serve to distinguish these artists from others and ascribe a more or less stable point of reference by which we can explore their work further. However, when considering works of art that are full of concrete images, works that have nothing abstract or “conceptualist” about them, it is not accurate to base our theories on these all-encompassing concepts. After all, once we arrive at a certain point, concepts are as useful as a rotten banana skin. It is then that we should dispose of the skin, so we can savour the fruit, that is to say, the work of art, little by little, which ultimately is what really interests us.
The truth is that, in order to get closer to the work of an artist, it is best to do the opposite. And that is why I want to start again, this time with a more direct approach:
Douglas Peréz is an extremely versatile and unpredictable artist. His wide knowledge of subjects as diverse as history, literature, film, caricature, computer science, and even stamp collecting, zoology and astrophysics (just to mention a few examples), means that he can explore a great range of themes and styles within his work. These extreme deviations often make it challenging to foresee what he will do next.
Just when we think he is going to continue to reflect on scenes and characters from the infamous history of African slavery in Cuba (a recurrent theme throughout his practice), Douglas produces a selection of works which deal with prostitution in La Habana, which are more European, and specifically Dutch in style, than Cuban. And then he approaches another series of works using animal metaphors. Large, muzzled alligators are depicted to represent the absence of free speech, public dialogue, and the stagnation of national politics.
His intellectual, imaginative and creative restlessness gives rise to work that jumps from one historical period, scene, or style to another; from one point of reference to another completely distinct; from historical reportage to literature to science fiction film to the North American (and Cuban) commercial propaganda of the fifties. Yet everything unfolds with absolute ease, an accomplishment beyond his years.
Through this “new age” encyclopaedism, reminiscent of Encarta and Wikipedia, Douglas Pérez has become the contemporary Cuban artist whose work seemingly fits into the greatest number of repertoires, collections, and disciplines. And when one door opens the other doesn’t close, for they are all kept open simultaneously, as if he were fusing them within one vast panorama.
However, there is just one small element that seems to contradict this audacity, and that is Douglas’ use of oil-painting, a tradition from which he has rarely departed. The rest is pure fantasy and freedom. It is the presence of a coherent intellectual discourse and an ethical position that is the steel backbone of his work, ensuring that this vast universe does not become entirely chaotic and incomprehensible. The artist has always been aware of the most delicate problems in the social, political and cultural reality of Cuba, and by extension, the world.