Memorial Garden: Revisiting Alexis Esquivel’s History Painting

/ 19 July, 2014

(…)The recent work by this artist could be placed in an intersection of art, politics and historiography, recovering the genre of history painting. Memorial Garden exhibition has precisely focused on the deconstruction operations Esquivel makes on this essential genre in the evolution of western art, as well as in the performance capacity painting still has for the political agency of art.

(…) Esquivel’s images are built on the canvas from the contact zones of Diasporas, but also based on questioning the past and postcolonial struggle where the histories of Spain and Cuba intersect each other, as well as the silence of a racialized voice within Cuban historiography. The drift of this artist through the media iconographies of the political life in the early 21st century question the limits and omissions of national representations. We can say that his is a postcolonial painting which moves away from any assignment or glorification and opens a fundamental questioning on the “historical” facts that should be painted today.

The most recent pictorial production of this artist is related to habitual concerns in his poetics since the early Retratos históricos (Historic Portraits, 1989-1997) to those in the series

Criollo Remix (Creole Remix, 2003-2008): historiographic suspicion, the legitimization of the apocryphal story through its pictorial representation, the interest in imagery coming from colloquial orality, the diachronic construction of cultural legacies through the palimpsest of references, the carnivalization and hybridization of identities in formation. Bad painting becomes one more historicist quote in Esquivel’s oeuvre. Portraits are crooked, disfigured, satirized; lines are lost and blurred to distort motifs and change scenes in a figuration that in the last series draws increasingly away from the neo-expressionism of the nineties, perhaps relinquishing the quoting or appropriating bent to the historicist drive of those pieces. In the four halls in which the museology of Memorial Garden was organized, Esquivel’s flirtation with this genre started its formal distancing from the academic canon in historic painting.

We face a painting with an outstanding intertextual complexity. But this artist does not establish hierarchies among his sources and proto-texts; he dismantles all notion of authority in his deconstructive practices. All in all, he acknowledges the ideological and/or fictional construction behind those stories he devours and vomits merged together, fragmented and unfinished, translated into a new iconography which we find elusive, mysterious, undecipherable or impossible to perceive as a new attempt at narration. (…)

Esquivel recomposes a puzzle where what is essential and what is accidental lose not only veracity, but also any predefined status within a hypothetic story. At times, the characters in his pieces are clearly recognizable; at other times, they are presented as anonymous faces, as part of a crowd, of a collective clamor from which other episodes of resistance in which heroism is shared or even questioned are weaved. It may be because in these paintings history is not recomposed from the polarity between winners and losers and no moral parables between good and evil are weaved. (…)

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