Notes for the Fifth World

/ 18 May, 2015

The most recent solo exhibition of Douglas Pérez (Villa Clara, 1972) was inaugurated on April 22 at the London gallery of Little Breese. In this, his first personal exhibition in England, the artist continues the exploration of issues associated with the process of colonization and especially its reach to social, racial and cultural level; from the presentation of its Fifth World. Taking as a starting point the work Tercer Mundo, by Wifredo Lam, and playing with the way the planet is stratified in different worlds, according to the level of development of countries, Douglas proposes to us setting up a possible Fifth World at imaginary level. The peculiar thing about this place is that its characters -coming from history of African slavery in Cuba, intend to shed their location in a position of subordination, under patterns of a scheme of representation associated with colonial pictures where picturesque and exotic vision prevail.

From the language of local customs, Douglas Pérez works formally his works; however, far from that dose of conformity and passivity that could be seen in that genre of Cuban painting of the nineteenth century, his reinterpretations describe a Fifth World which proposes a rewriting of history in which parody atomizes modes, turned into fashion of representation. In this way we could venture to talk about the presence in his poetics of a new type of New Historicism, with deconstructive breath, in which he works with codes of local customs, as he alters that traditional visuality. Where previously there was a folklorist look under which white people understand black ones, now it is the black who gives a twist to the story.

His appropriation of the language of local customs passes through an ironic sieve in the same measure that is committed to subversion of the sign of the black, understood in its symbolic dimension as a race, as a culture, as otherness. He proposes a radical shift in the treatment of black theme associated to an already demodé local customs genre . He d econstructs the traditional representation of black culture which, in this his Fifth World, faces that Western civilization that has self-constructed and built others from a marked Euro-centrism. Thus it can be seen in the piece Resaca where he reverses the roles so that a black maidservant sweeps the remains of the Spanish army, previously defeated by black slaves who have rebelled. With meticulous narrative style and contextualization of the characters in detailed interiors of Cuban colonial houses, Pérez Castro takes as reference the mural painting of the friezes of these homes, as it can be seen in Desobediencia, which takes us to a contemporary universe totally globalized, as it can also be distinguished in Sano entretenimiento-. The truth is that in both pieces the artist puts in total crisis a model of culture that has long served as oppressing of others that were relegated to the sidelines.

In the first piece he deconstructs the figure of the black slave to transform it into matchsticks about to burn; while in the second one he places without any reservation the figure of Jesus Christ on a torch, ready to be eaten by primitive blacks who are around him;

while the event is appreciated from the bench by infants wearing jerseys of their soccer idols. Burlesque metaphor, scathing criticism, intelligent humor starting from an insight into Cuban historical past, Sano entretenimiento s ummarizes and reveals the intention of the artist to get attention from the land of art and making use of traditional oil painting on the failure of mental schemes under which contemporary society still works. This work, along with Desayuno de campeones, keeps points of connection with the exhibition Cannibal/Carnival: Elio Rodríguez and Douglas Pérez Castro (2012), where the artist continues working on the schematic idea of partnership between the black and the trope cannibal; association that, as ethnographic image or cultural metaphor, was a way for Europeans to understand others. Cannibalism, established as a sign of otherness of America and then Africa, as well as a symbol of the cultural vacuum of that other, was used to formulate such geographies as epistemological places of desire and domination.

Douglas Perez’s narrative insists to value the importance of the African presence for contemporary Cuban culture. He revisits from a postcolonial approach this issue as discussed in our visual arts as well as effectively uses a language of the past to talk about our present. In his colorful paintings the viewer may se melancholy that all history made from waste suggests, so that he links his artistic work to the historical and visual memory. Also, despite knowing the wide range offered by humor and sarcasm as tools to move himself in different levels of communication more or less incisive -Perez Castro bets for an art dealing with phenomena of contemporary Cuban culture such as the racial discrimination, sequel of the slave trade on the island.

Fortunately, for those who enjoy an intelligent art, Douglas Pérez continues working in this series, from the inclusion of a graphic section based on a kind of tradition of “building maps”. We just have to follow his steps to continue deciphering the paradoxes and complexities of his Fifth World.

Julienne López Hernández

Julienne López Hernández

La Habana (1989). Licenciada en Historia del Arte por la Universidad de La Habana. Desde el 2012 trabaja como docente en el Departamento de Estudios Teóricos y Sociales de la Cultura de la Facultad de Artes y Letras de la Universidad de La Habana. Ha colaborado sobre temas de artes visuales cubano, latinoamericano y caribeño en publicaciones como Artecubano y el Boletín Noticias de Artecubano, y en sitios web y catálogos personales de artistas cubanos contemporáneos.

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