Exhibition CAAM - Los Balcones 11. Planta 3
Alexis Esquivel Memorial Garden
Since 27 February 2014 to 25 May 2014
Memorial Garden, Alexis Esquivel’s first personal exhibition (La Palma - Pinar del Río, Cuba, 1968) in a European museum, now held by Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno on its third floor, shows the artist’s recent pictorial production. Here we can notice the usual themes in Esquivel’s poetics, since the early Retratos históricos («Historical Portraits», 1989-1997) up to the collection Criollo Remix (2003-2008). It was precisely with this first series of portraits that his work was presented in Spain, some twenty years ago, via the journal Atlántica and the collective exhibition Los héroes de la plástica cubana («The Heroes of Cuban Visual Art», 1996), at the hall San Antonio Abad, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. There, the artist showed his interest in the construction of the discourses of History as stories where the problem of racism and the absence or manipulation of black bodies in the History of Western Art become evident. These ideas appeared very clearly in two individual exhibitions that were also held on the Spanish peninsula in recent years: Últimas noticias del ingenio («Last News about Wit», 2010) and Los próximos heroes («The Next Heroes», 2012), and come back now with Memorial Garden, where the artist maturely resumes his play through the genre of history painting.
In Memorial Garden, Esquivel discloses his fascination with the so called «big genre» within the canon of academic painting. This genre is ideologically linked to the birth of the nation-state in the Western world. In Spain, this process reaches its utmost expression during the 19th century and relates directly to the colonial claims facing the independence processes in the territories of Latin America. Today, when the concept of nation-state is challenged in our global world, Esquivel’s images spring from the contact zones between the diverse diasporas and the postcolonial struggles, where the histories of Spain and Cuba converge. The wanderings of this artist through the scenes showing political life at the beginning of the 21st century, that we consume on the mass media, question the absence of subordinate voices such as those of the Afro-descendants in the national representations. We could define this approach as postcolonial painting that formulates a central question: which events can be transformed into pictorial images nowadays?
The contemporary artist distrusts what the History books tell. This counter-painting serves as a tool of destabilization and denouncement; it becomes a resource of memory in a time where the circulating speed of information brings an immediate amnesia with it: a dreadfully dangerous amnesia, since it allows for the reawakening of old fundamentalisms.
The Memorial Garden exhibition recurs to the figure of the garden as a counter-space where the myths of the contemporary global culture collapse. In this painting approach, places, events, anonymous faces and public characters mix together, with no order or hierarchies. What can the painting praxis do in its attempt to represent «reality», its period of time, its context? We must bear in mind that this is a medium that remains caged within the walls of the artist’s studio or the museum most of the times. The canvas surface becomes a chronicle; a fragmentary story that creates fables where the news on the internet or the mass media and the street rumors are transformed into pictorial matter. If the traditional History painting reconstructed an idealized vision of the modern nation, thus reflecting a utopian image of the State, then this post-colonial and hyper-narrative counter-painting represents the ultimate crisis of every discourse.
Exhibition title: Memorial Garden
Curator: Suset Sánchez
Dates: 27.02.2014 to 25.05.2014
Place: CAAM - Los Balcones 11. Planta 3
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Spain.