Flags and Flags

/ 1 June, 2016

Based on a symbol dear to Cubans, the national flag, this end of spring or beginning of summer in Havana, the emblematic Pabellón Cuba opened an exhibition of 100 artists of different expressions and generations with the title Fuerza y sangre: imaginarios de la bandera en el arte cubano (Strength and Blood: Imaginaries of the Flag of Cuban Art), sponsored by the National Council of Visual Arts, the Ministry of Culture and the Hermanos Saíz Association, whose curatorship and museography were in charge of Isabel Pérez and Virginia Alberdi, with the assistance of Tania Parson and Estela Ferrer, as well as the consultancy of Gilbert Brownstone.

Animated by the spirit of expressing the interest of numerous Cuban artists for the national flag in some moment of their careers, the exhibition opens with graphics, that is, with a group of posters dedicated to cinema, politics, cultural events, seminars and homages made in the last decades, that escort the viewer from the very entrance to the inner areas of Pabellón Cuba (…)

The enormous central hall, approximately 500 square meters, to which we went down by stairs built for this occasion, served as the scene to show the major portion of the works on wooden panels in five large areas which included almost all the expressions of art grouped according with the treatment given to the flag and the intentions of each author.

It would be impossible to review them all since they exceed a hundred, but I will stop on those I consider resulted revealing as is the case of a monumental Rubik cube hanging from the ceiling (weighing one ton) in which each of the faces had a different national flag—among those the ones of the United States, China, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia—for supposed players forming international combinations to their taste. In that same line was the wooden work with a small format by Abel Barroso, consisting on a domino set exhibited on a small table where each checker is the flag of a given country: thus, the player would try to connect them, really playing, as if they were real dominoes with numbers but, in that game invented by the artist, it would be almost impossible since different colors, symbols and geometrical forms prevent it.

(…) En el monte (In the Woodland), from the Stainless group, is a drawing on paper of hundreds of Cuban flags placed in enormous flagpoles—as the “monte de las banderas” (flags woodland) which today is in a side of the United States Embassy in Havana—in the space of the famous Times Square: an entirely Cuban enclave in the neuralgic center of the populous New York City, as a provocation and, at the same time, a search of fraternity and understanding. (…)

I should observe that, in this occasion, several artists showed works made in former years, which is perhaps more evident in the cases of Tonel and his well-known cement block on one of whose faces the Cuban flag is painted in colors, and Lesbia Vent Dumois, who turned up to one of her large format engravings of 1961 and then intervened it in 2015 with the purpose of producing a delicate, poetic piece with an undisputable semantic strength. Fewer conceived their works especially for the occasion. Therefore, the differences among ones and others regarding their meaning and significance: thanks to that we could again enjoy a white and black photography on Plexiglas by Carlos Garaicoa, on a fence of political propaganda placed years before on the outskirts of Havana and in which it is still possible to dramatically glimpse the torn remains of a Cuban flag. (…)

More than twenty Cuban institutions supported this exhibition and curatorial effort, which was able to integrate expressions of a very diverse nature, carried out in the midst of outstanding events in national life and to which many artists in this vast territory of visual arts have shown sensitivity. (…)

Nelson Herrera Ysla

Nelson Herrera Ysla

Art critic, curator, poet. He is co-founder of the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center and of the Havana Biennial, an event he led from 1999 to 2001, and where he is currently curator. He has lectured in numerous countries and published numerous critical texts in specialized publications of Cuba and abroad. General Curator of the XVI Paiz Biennial of Guatemala, 2008. Essay Jury of the Casa de las Américas Prize, 2005, and international art events in Latin America. National Award for Arts Criticism Guy Pérez Cisneros, 2007, and National Prize for Curators 2013, both in Cuba.

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