Some of Jacqueline's mosaics are in fact only paintings made to resemble mosaics. One could say that she delights in making plain that they are simulacra. On occasion the subject matter turns to the landscape around Havana. When that happens, Havana is enveloped in a grandiose historicism, as though identified with a remote, mythological past. The illusionist intention is evident: the Cuban city, broken by a physical, environmental crisis, takes refuge from the dust and soot of its present in an earlier age, but one that also ended in ruins, in fragments of stone, columns, and polychrome tombstones (see also pp. 48-49).
A similar refined technique exists in the work of Yamilys Brito, Jacqueline's sister. Engraving has found new popularity among a group of young graphic artists who, in the beginning of the 1990s, opened new thematic, stylistic, and promotional avenues for the technique. Some broke with the conventional presentation of print and incorporated engraving in three-dimensional space, in installation and environmental work.
For Yamilys, Havana is a space that inspires and dazzles. In her work, the city is converted into colored fragments and becomes a labyrinth, a place to lose oneself in streets with evocative names. The city in her art is a map that leads nowhere, yet in which everything--the characters, objects, monuments, names, drama--is perfectly recognizable. A written word conjures up the image it represents, as sign and signifier mix. Her use of writing is part of a recent tradition that explores the relationship in Cuba between image and text (see pp. 50-51).
Although polished, formally meticulous beauty is a defining trait of Cuban art in the 1990s, it is not the only one. Also deserving special attention are artists of Conceptualist affiliation, inheritors of the notion that ideas are more important than mediums This was an important influence in art schools in the first half of the 1980s. Two such important artists are Ernesto Leal and Luis Gómez.
Ernesto Leal belonged to the group Arte Calle, a teenage collective that was very active in the urban spaces of Havana, creating murals, performances, and other kinds of events, including music, until the end of the 1980s. Leal came of age at a time when
art was moving out of the traditional arena, as artists sought dialogue with the public and believed in the edifying and mobilizing possibility of art. Leal's 1990 graduate thesis, Revolución es involución (Revolution Is Involution), for the Academia San Alejandro, was a performance-installation in his home in Havana.
In the first half of the 1990s, Leal's work studied individual, daily life, focusing on the aesthetics of the home and intimate surroundings. These became pretexts for the creation of narratives, fictions that involved their own creator as well as friends and acquaintances. In these works, texts and objects were presented in vitrines and on tables, demonstrating an inclination toward Conceptualist methodology.
Beginning in the mid- 1990s, Leal introduced the subject of alchemy into his work. His art became increasingly hermetic, adopting an air of mystery, as though he were working from one of the laboratories where Paracelsus and his colleagues cooked up the world's definitive formulas. The hermeticism has been productive, for he has gained in suggestive power. At the same time, his works always engage in dialogue with society. It is a paradoxical effect, for the work takes refuge in what is apparently banal, keeps its distance from any form of melodrama, and yet his messages are profoundly dramatic. Through the most common actions and fragments, even through silence, Ernesto can speak about solitude, miscommunication, power, fear, and the absurd (see pp. 94-95).
Luis Gómez is another artist more concerned with the individual and spirituality than with the social or political. Ritual and religion make his art ceremonial and even transcendent. His artworks seem to rise above their own physical presence or material: the washes and charcoal of his drawings; the fabric, water, light, wine, ice, fire in his installations. The physical aspect of the work tends often to contradict immutability, to negate permanence: there are plays of light, movement, and changes in weather (see pp. 84-85).
Self-restraint and sobriety are important elements in Gómez's work. His ideas are always realized with the bare essentials, yet in spite of this they maintain an elegance that is almost formalist. Designs and tools with symbolic and religious implications (spirals, mandalas, a fish, a hammer) are reiterated throughout his work. These kinds of objects are also found in his recent photographs. Photography in Cuba is associated with a heavy, epic, reportorial tradition. The recent forays into photography of Gómez and Leal are leading the way to new expressions in this medium in Cuba.
Antonio Eligio (Tonel) is an artist, art historian, and curator. He lives in Havana.
Translated by Marguerite Feitlowitz