Apropos the exhibition Zarza: Lo que no se vio

/ 23 October, 2014

The exposition Lo que no se vio, by Rafael Zarza, was opened on October 17th at Villa Manuela Gallery that belongs to the National Association of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC bi its Spanish acronym). It was an excellent opportunity to appreciate a set of works from the period 1970-2008. The sample, without intending to be a retrospective, becomes homage to this important creator within Cuban graphic, as it exhibits his work during more than 30 years from pieces which had been barely seen previously, hence its great worth. The exhibition, with more than thirty engravings of great plastic and conceptual value, provides the possibility of discerning the discursive aesthetic of his work in which the figure of the bull emerges as distinctive element.

It is the allusion to the same referent one and again, which does not cease surprising us; it is not repetition, is original creation. The bull becomes a symbol of strength, fight, virility. A figure that carries the antagonistic pares of life and death, strength and weakness, by watching an animal that is in turn vigorous, skeletal and gaunt but his spirit is intact. Among the works from the 1970s we may find his bullfighting or as he sometimes calls them Tauroerotornillomanía, scenes shown in original framings in which the bull becomes biomechanical being. Works that would not have to feel envy by Kamasutra, because this sort of humour, mixed with cunning, wit and technical domain turn these engravings into an interesting proposal.

In words by the author himself: ¨My topic is bullfighting, but I handle it to my own way, depending on what I want. It is a symbol; I try to talk about human livestock, which behaves like beasts, sometimes aggressive, sometimes noble. Sometimes they can be disastrous and when tamed become oxen. Ah, they always die fighting. The bull is a symbol of rebelliousness, strength. ¨ (1)

Likewise, the bull is shown as interesting protagonist of suggestive ads from the 1950s, including Polar beer and Escudo hot dogs. Issue that he retakes in more modern works such as Bucanero, Cebú cubano (2007), drink that is sponsored with the attractive slogan Atrévase a disfrutar el placer de esta tentadora cerveza “Bucanero” 100 % cubana (Dare to enjoy the pleasure of this tempting 100 percent Cuban ¨Bucanero¨ beer).

In other works the referent is the female counterpart, the cow, which occasionally acquires the personality of Francisco de Goya´s Maja desnuda (Playcow, 1979). Here it is produced a symbiosis between the female body and the cow head where the pubis is shown in the way of Origen del mundo by Gustavo Courbet (Muu International Number One, 1980).

The fact is that Zarza masterfully uses the artistic currents and important creators of art history. He retakes topics such as the famous wine cellars transformed into Taurobodegones, in which the cow head is the key element of the composition, as in the case of Taurobodegón No. 6 (1979), version of the work Naturaleza muerta by Paul Cézanne. Thus he opts by topics of mythological or religious origin like Rapto de Europa or Crucifixión, where the bull symbolizes the figure of Zeus and Christ respectively. The masks are other important pieces within the exposition. In this point Zarza delves into the roots of African culture, its rituals, and customs through objects that caused impact on the European continent and influenced on the work of artists like Pablo Picasso and that are indisputably and decisively part of the formation of Cuban identity and culture.

The exhibition is considered a revelation by many, but mostly by the new generations. The works seem to be from all times, only the detail of the date betrays its complicity with another time… but in the end the freshness of its spirit stamps it a contemporary seal, which confirms the renewal nature it had and the validity it acquires currently.


[1] Interview Zarza: Toros pintados, by Iris Cepero. La Jiribilla website, 2002.

Yeniffer Torres Cordero

Yeniffer Torres Cordero

Yeniffer Torres Cordero (La Habana, 1989). Soy graduada de Historia del Arte. He publicado en Noticias Artecubano y el Caimán Barbudo. Me interesa el arte contemporáneo y los temas relacionados con el patrimonio cultural.

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