“Light is a metaphor of honesty,” curator Concha Fontenla writes in her introduction to Diógenes y la luz (Diogenes and the light), currently on view at Factoría Habana in Havana.
With this concept as their starting point, José Toirac & Octavio Marín embark on a metaphoric search through contemporary Havana for the equivalent of the Greek philosopher’s “honest man.”
The artists make full use of Factoría Habana’s three floors of gallery space, structuring the exhibition in three levels of information.
The ground floor is dominated by Renaissance, a large-scale installation created in collaboration with Anielka Karmona. It includes a “red carpet” of crushed cans leading to a trash-bin sofa cushioned in garbage bags, accompanied by 30 portraits of individuals lounging on the trash-bag sofa.
Fontenla describes Diógenes y la luz as an “homage to each and every one of those who, in absolute anonymity and with no intention to stand out, nor looking for any recognition, achieve success and personal growth simply by doing right in the utopic day-to-day of the society in which they live.”
Many of the portraits on the ground floor attest to their subject’s path in life. Ángel (Buyer-Seller of discs) seems to emerge from a wall of CDs.
The full-length portrait of Carlos (Chef), made in collaboration with Osay Chala Zulueta, is surrounded by family photos, souvenir plates, religious figurines, and other mementos. Ricardo (Carretillero) is framed by the what appears to be the frame of a wooden cart, and Tomás (Collector of raw material), 2016, is painted on a bundle of scrap cardboard.
Just as Renaissance dominates the ground floor gallery, the installation Reliquaries commands the second floor. Each of the 20 vitrines is dedicated to a single individual—from “Isidro, 1826–1855, esclavo” to “Fecundo Bacardi, 1914–1986, empresario’—and contains objects emblematic of the person’s life.
The vitrine dedicated to the cook Margot Bacallao, for instance, contains measuring implements, polished to a metallic sheen, and a well-used copy of Cocina al minuto, the beloved cookbook by Nitza Vilapol.
Works on the upper levels sometimes take an unorthodox turn. Jesús de Infanta (Jesús Menéndez Larrondo), a portrait of the trade unionist, is shown in a frame marred (or perhaps repaired) by discolored tape, with a clipboard of documents hanging nearby. A portrait of Mercedes (Retired florist), 2016, is left unfinished, crowded by buckets of colorful fresh flowers.
A variety of elements go into the portrait of corruption-fighting politician Eduardo Chibás (1907–1951). In addition to framed newspaper clippings, Adlabonazo (Eduardo Chibás) includes a door-like slab of wood propped against the wall, to which a copy of Bohemia magazine has been fastened. A small door within the board carries a quote, and opens to reveal an image of Chibás behind it.
The exhibition ends on the top floor with the installation Model (El Che con el hostiario), an evocation, in religious terms, of what Fontenla calls “the revolutionary dream, Che Guevara’s ‘new man’ and its relation with mass culture.”
It is this relationship, she writes, “which Toirac and Marín explicitly refer to from the characteristic multiplicity of contemporary art.”
José Toirac y Octavio Marín. Diógenes y la luz runs through April 30 at Factoría Habana, Havana. For more artworks from the show, see the album on the Cuban Art News Facebook page.