In his works, Esterio Segura blends the socio-political, historical, economic and religious factors that deepen the complexity of everyday life in Cuba, while also exploring the physical and metaphorical boundaries of the island and of human existence itself, both biological and psychological. In this sense, a recurring image in his oeuvre is the “crossbreeding” of winged or finned animals, the human body and other organic elements, with man-made structures, artifacts and devices like bridges, funnels, mills, chimneys, and most specially, cars, airplanes, submarines, bicycles and other machinery conceived as means of transportation and discovery.
Segura’s “hybrids”, be it a human bridge, an amphibious plane, or an airborne car, “are preceded by a century-long tradition in western art, [and serve] as an allegory -just like that of Icarus- of the long cherished dream of humanity to exceed its limitations, to leave behind the sedentary, earthbound life that molds its worldview, and create a new sense of space, liberty and happiness; the dream of embracing the world in a nomadic existence, detached from here and now to move freely, defying gravitation and distances by designing mechanisms that make it possible for men to fly, cross the seas, and connect faster with others on all the corners of the earth and beyond”. Most importantly, Segura’s mechanical crossbreeds, as symbolic surrogates of humans and their urges to move and connect, are also an attempt to reconcile issues of isolation, freedom, death, immigration, and exile, all linked with the circumstances of being Cuban, as much as of being a transhumant soul seeking to belong in a globalized world. As the artist indicates: “Since 2003, I have been very interested in the symbolism of the aircraft, in the full sense of the word, whether general or even more polemical.”
In Hybrid of a Chrysler (2016), wings are attached to the roof of a vintage car, one similar to the classic automobiles used daily in today’s Cuba, which appears ready for flight. Just like this sculpture does, the mere existence of the typical “almendrones” (as Cubans call their beloved ancient American cars of the 1940’s and 1950’s), still running in the streets of Havana, suggest the otherworldly, the seemingly impossible, which the artist nonetheless translates as the perfect allegory of struggle, resilience, and hope in the face of adverse realities. The persistent caring and inventiveness that make these antediluvian dinosaurs roll (if we think of the Cuban Revolution as the Flood, which it kind of was for so many), are the signs of Cubans’ deep understanding of the parallelism between revival and survival. They also express a kindred, and yet no less paradoxical feeling of nostalgia, born out of necessity, for the “good old times” when Cubans believe to have had strong bonds with things that seemed to last, while the world outside the margins of their existence continued to fleet and evolve in swift, endless cycles of obsolescence, renewal, and ever newer things.
That understanding has been internalized and sublimated by the artist (himself the kind of crossbreed of an obsessive traveler with a “car freak,” which in time made him turn into a passionate vintage car collector). In Hybrid of a Chrysler Segura made an outmoded, wrecked American car recover the dignifying air of the limousine it once was, and just like the spirit of his fellow Cuban mechanics, the rotund metal carcass mutated, out of relentless dreaming and hoping, and grew wings. The sculpture introduces a provocation, an invitation to the liberating journey beyond the confines of an island, and furthermore, it denotes a universal symbol of change, of the collision between eternal opposites: the old and the new, weight and lightness, robustness and frailty, stagnation and forward movement, slowness and speed, impossibility and endless possibility, the past and the promise of future. It embodies an island, tied up by a water belt and trapped in a time lag, that wants to break free and fly away.
And indeed, the winged sculpture has flown high and away. Since its imaginary take off in 2016, it has been harvesting awe and sympathy among thousands of viewers as it “landed” on one venue after the other. It was part of the exhibition Complicated Beauty: Contemporary Cuban Art at the Tampa Museum of Art, from where it made a transoceanic journey to Venice to be part of the Cuban Pavilion for the 57th Biennale, where it became a visual pivot, being a funnily anachronic and uncanny object in the 16th century cobbled streets of a pedestrian Renaissance city. After cruising through the canals, the complicated installment outside the Palazzo Loredan was possible thanks to the generous assistance of the passers-by, who made it possible to handle the heavy weight of the metal wings, and one could not help to mentally connect this bizarre image (for a top-notch international art event anyway) with that of any of the Hybrid… ’s fellow veteran cars back in their own island, frequently broken down under the scorching sun and on the pothole-infested streets of Old Havana, needing a solidary push from passers-by to be able to go back on track for just another busy day.
Back in the United States, the wings were remade using lighter materials, only to keep on “flying” to The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC, where it was on display as part of the Festival Artes de Cuba. From the Island to the World. There, placed right under J.F. Kennedy’s famous quote on the challenge of sustaining spiritual growth and cultural participation amid material accomplishment, strangely and yet illuminatingly the sculpture’s universal meaning and local connotations resonated even further into the wide gap that has mutually alienated the Cuban and American societies for six decades, bridging it symbolically: a technological totem of the golden era of American postwar economic success and social progress, is restored by Cuban ingenuity and reinvented by Cuban spirituality in a present-day urge to survive and retrace one’s own steps toward freedom and advancement. Next to Hybrid… Kennedy’s warning that his country “cannot afford to be materially rich, and spiritually poor,” seems to suggest that a similar concern arises when we swap the terms of the proposition. Most recently, in another uniquely symbolic turn, the Hybrid… went back to Florida for “Cuban Ingenuity. The Artistry of the Everyday Inventor” at the Cade Museum, an exhibition discussing the same community of dreams, creativity, and invention fueled by hardship, resilience and the will to move on that originally inspired the creation of the sculpture. In each of these places, the viewers have reacted to and interacted with the sculpture in unique ways, and social media became the perfect vehicle for the expression of all the reflections and sentiments aroused by this encounter.
Staged in a “global” setting, Hybrid of a Chrysler represents, beyond its culturally-specific origins and references, the love affair between humans and their machines, an expression of our perpetual hope of seeking knowledge widely, moving and living freely, and communicating openly in the pursuit of our highest goals.