The Strange Ghosts of Utopia

/ 23 July, 2019

Desires, promises, disillusionment, disappointment, joys and defeats seem to be the coordinates of the lives of those beings modeled by artist Pedro Pablo Oliva.

They were two bags: one white, one black. They moved on their own, along the floor of the Casa 8 gallery, between the feet of those gathered at the inauguration of the exhibition Espantado de todo by visual artist Pedro Pablo Oliva. Maybe they were more than two, but that detail does not matter. According to the story I heard, the power of illusion and enchantment of a terrible and candid story was encrypted in them.

Exhibited from December 21, 2018 to January 31, 2019, the series that comprise it, under the titles of Lamentaciones, Balcones, Los extraños fantasmas de la utopía, Alegrías y tristezas de El Malecón, and Sillones de mimbre, doesn’t seek to build a simple story of men and ghosts.

Call it paradox to attempt quickly and badly the synthesis, to invoke even Marti –that mystery that accompanies us– after remembering what was condensed in the black cardboards executed with mixed technique and collage, and in “the sleeping Marti” sculpted in bronze. Desires, promises, disillusionment, disappointment, joys and defeats seem to be the coordinates of the lives of those beings modeled by Oliva.

Expecting a list of the recreated “locations,” say a balcony, the green spine of the country, a room, a wicker armchair, the Malecón, a pedestal. The aforementioned are the scenarios from which a utopia has also been seen, lived and suffered. Because they are established as the result of another possible physical and political map of Cuba.

The men and women of Espantado… go by in a strange calmness or apparent resignation accompanied by small animals, clouds, rocks, flowers. Some seem to levitate or dream. Others, according to the arc described by the body, ponder from comfortable or extreme postures. Undoubtedly, it is a stillness placed in a precarious balance.

“I hide at home a lot of ghosts that good and bad friends were leaving me little by little. Once a year I put them in a bag and let them graze somewhere with the sweet hope that one day they will cease to be a utopia,” wrote Pedro Pablo in the exhibition’s catalog. I think of the bags, their colors, the content, what moves them. I think of Pedro Pablo Oliva and his ghosts, in that unique way of dealing with them.

In Oliva’s work there’s a very personal variant that has given form, order and meaning to the dream of reason. Everything under the sun is in this exhibition, stamped on the black background of the paintings or in the molded metal.

Espantado de todo is cutting open a reality delineated, for better or for worse, by the relations of power, by the story narrated by the person in power, and the notion of good elaborated and voiced by those individuals.

(…) Without a doubt, Espantado… puts into crisis not the unconditional ideology of love, and the unconditional love of an ideology, but the notions of what is moral and ethical in those who profess a certain type of love and ideology or who order professing them.

“I believed that story of the new man, who professed a rational and scientific philosophy, detached from the material world and full of spirituality. Every man carries his ghosts, that kind of frustration that torments us and drives us to be better every day.”

(…) A sort of whisper or more or less drowned scream runs through the cardboards. It is not exactly the phrase said by each character in the green spine of the country, but the voice of the artist. Is he a “scared” man who found refuge in the visual arts? It is in the sculpture of the “sleeping Marti” where that voice reaches its highest register, because the man in love with love, the man who suffered the iron ring, the one who went to battle in the woods dressed in black on a white horse, the one with a rotund and fiery verb, that sort of trinity as father, son and “holy spirit” is summed up in the small bronze figure.

Espantado de todo is a story where (almost) all of us play a part. Even the bearded old man donning an olive green uniform. He harbors the joys, frustrations and stubbornness of many: the lover at the balcony, the one who doubts sitting on the hill, those who try to participate actively in “the game,” the one determined to change everything that can be changed, the lover, the official, the naive, those who have aged and no longer expect anything, the adolescents, the lazybones….

Speaking of ghosts and of man, Pedro Pablo Oliva wrote: “Here I brought you, here I leave you, aimless dreary dreamers, trying every second to discover a new and hopeful path.”

Ahmel Echevarria

Narrator. Graduate in Mechanical Engineering at the Higher Polytechnic Institute “José Antonio Echeverría”. He is a member of the Unión Nacional de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC) and of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA). He is author of several books of stories and novels. His reviews have been published in various magazines and websites. Currently, he works as the web editor of Centronelio (

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