Permutations: Contemporary Cuban Art is the exhibition opening the fall season at Miami’s Pan American Art Projects. The show spotlights five Cuban artists who live and work on the island: Abel Barroso, J. Roberto Diago, Jorge López Pardo, and the duo M & T (Meira Marrero and José A. Toirac).
Making use of the peculiar symbiosis between printmaking and sculpture that has characterized his art, Abel Barroso (b. Pinar del Rio, 1971) uses the woodcut matrix as the raw material for his installations, which, laden with sarcasm, question everyday life in Cuba. Generally, the topics addressed by Barroso stand at the crossroads between the peculiarities of Cuban society and their relationship and contradictions to the global era.
For example, issues like migration, tourism, ideology, and access to technology emerge in his work. Where Are You Really Come From? is an interactive sculpture that presents a balance scale. Depending on place of origin, it calibrates the value of your property and possessions and, consequently, access to travel visas. The humorous sculpture plays with the idea of the balance to underscore the inequality of international access to the so-called global age.
The work of Jorge Lopez Pardo (b. Trinidad, 1976) takes a more introspective point of view. His art is focused on philosophical issues, in which the metaphysical drawing becomes an opportune bridge to imaginary places, black holes that permit the artist to escape to another dimension, far from immediate reality. Impeccable realized, these monochrome drawings on canvas, devoid of human presence and defying all logic, arouse ambivalent feelings in the viewer: fascination and alienation, among others, on seeing unreality depicted with such a meticulous, hyperrealistic technique.
Focusing on the persistent and silenced problem of racism in Cuba, the work of J. Roberto Diago (b. Havana, 1971) is marked by precariousness as a sign of exclusion and silencing. Using scavenged materials like wood, metal, burlap, and coal, often reused and repeatedly discarded, Diago articulates an effective commentary on the lives of blacks in Cuba, who are still among the most marginalized population segments in the society.
Ave Maria, an installation by M & T—Meira Marrero (b. Havana, 1969) and José A. Toirac (b. Guantanamo, 1966) is the structuring axis of Permutations. The stunning installation greets visitors from its central position in the gallery’s main room.
"This work explores Cuban cultural identity beyond geographical and political boundaries," Marrero and Toirac say. "The statues were collected in different cities in Cuba and in five American locations where Cuban exiles have played a significant historical and social role: Tampa, Miami, Los Angeles, New Jersey, and New York."
Gathered together on a table approximately five meters long are 55 virgins. ("The number 5 and its multiples are attributes of Ochún,” say the duo, for whom nothing is left to chance.) The table was chosen as a support because, according to legend, the image of the virgin of El Cobre, who appeared in the Bay de Nipe in the early 17th century, was floating on a table that was inscribed Yo soy la Virgen de la Caridad (I am the Virgin of Charity). Even today, a piece of wood claimed to be part of that table is preserved for public viewing at the Santuario de la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. The rest, now gone, was lost to pilgrims who tore off pieces to take with them as relics.
On each side of the table is engraved, in gold on a deep blue background, in Spanish and English, a sentence from the historical discourse that José Martí gave in 1891, at the Cuban Lyceum in Tampa, for cigarmakers and Cuban exiles who generously contributed to the freedom of the island: "Or the Republic is based on the entire character of each of its children (...) or the republic is not worth one tear from our women nor a single drop of blood from our brave men."
On display on the table are widely varying versions of the Virgen de la Caridad, from objects of anthropological value dating to the 19th century to figurines stamped “made in China.”
Ave Maria is an altar to the diversity of the Cuban nation and the plurality of the inclusive republic so longed for by Martí, who epitomizes the phrase with all and for the good of all. As Marrero and Toirac explain it, the work is also "a prayer for the unity of the Cuban family that has grown within and beyond the island, that syncretic and undeniable identity that the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre shields and symbolizes.”
Made in 2010, Ave Maria has been previously shown in the US: at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, The 8th Floor in New York, and the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum (USFCAM) in Tampa. But showing the work in Miami was vital for the two artists, because of the importance of the city to the international Cuban community.
Permutations. Contemporary Cuban Art. will remain on view at Pan-American Art Projects through November 1.