Elvia Rosa Castro

Cover: The Lady in Red, 2015

It is possible that Aimée García is the most prolific Cuban artist in the use of the self-portrait in her works, mostly paintings. In the “Cuban case” the use of the self-portrait is almost a political gesture. In the island, we were educated on the idea of the collective and the masses, surrounded by a discourse that nullifies any semblance of the self or individual initiative. Aimée’s art work goes against that doctrine. Aimée proposes a new type of humanism, situating herself as the protagonist and the center of racial, generic, domestic, historical, identity and social contradictions. 

From the Series Repression, 2018

Most of the time, Aimée uses to install the painting, and she uses the collage so distinctive in her work. Often she speaks of a strong existential asphyxia produced by the gags of censorship and daily life. It denounces the repression as well as the resistance in a context entirely phallocentric and military. Aimée’s whole creation is an enigma. Her eye-catching works paradoxically show an immense nervousness and a curious tension between meekness and pitilessness, brittleness and robustness. 

Pureza/Purity, 2012

The project Behind the Wall usually offers categorical works to that symbolic patrimony the Havana Biennial is Fe (Faith), by Adonis Flores in 2012, and La dama de rojo (The Lady in Red), by Aimée García in 2015, make my rotundity utterly verifiable and believable. There are two or three more, but I think there is unanimity on these two. For example, in the 2012 Biennial, by Aimée, a black mantle knitted in situ covered twenty meters of the breakwater wall, the Malecón, also known as the “Havana sofa”. Pureza (Purity), that was its title, is very good work too. Without a great display, avoiding common places and resuming her practice of working with handicrafts, Aimée continues with this work in progress what she had advanced in her solo show in Villa Manuela Gallery, El jardín de la intolerancia (The Garden of Intolerance). The phrase I used at that moment is the following: Aimée is the absolute owner of the “hidden syndrome”.

El jardín de la intoleracia/The Garden of Intolerance, 2010

And, actually, Pureza confirms my assertion from the title itself. How can we tell a Cuban student that the stripes of our flag, white, may be black and pure? There is something dissident in that stretch of black weaves from its title. The first tachycardia is produced by a linguistic contradiction with minimum and accurate intervention: two women are knitting a big and beautiful black mantle to cover the breakwater wall, an area of jubilee and deep mourning. 1994 overloaded with memory, respect and tribute. Death is black. And is pure. And is inside. On the desolate face of a city already without much pride. Pureza is also, together with Electrocotidianograma (Electrondailygram) by Sandra Ramos and Habana Libre by Ernesto Javier Fernández, a demonstration of our impolitic.

Pureza/Purity. Detail. 2012

Aimée as an innovator, creator of a portable mausoleum, ductile and soft which is also placed in May, the month of the Biennial, that is also a springtime month and we had, out of time, a “Black Spring”. [ER1] Short downpour, zero narration and zero excess in this piece. Because she does not wet, but drenches. If I were to join this work with another one, it would undoubtedly be Nube negra (Black Cloud), a big and beautiful installation by Mexican Carlos Amorales.

And Aimée continued embroidering. She began to take the newspapers published in Cuba, especially Granma, the omnipresent and embroidered each letter with thread. She crossed it out with parsimony, slyness, calculation and sangfroid; creating some compositions she entitled Discurso Suprematista (Suprematist Speech). Between ironical and literal, the link is clear: reduced chromatic presence and geometrical—preferentially lineal—compositions which turned to abstraction. Granma is, we know, the bicolor replica of the speech of the Revolution, or better, of the official defining itself as revolutionary.

According to Aimée (watch out, we should not believe too much on what the artists say of their own works!), it was her purpose to create a space for mental rest in face of the overwhelming media avalanche to which we are daily submitted. An “empty space”, she said. Aimée explains the Zen-sense of her work. And she is right! She empties, yes; she makes the ideological speech drain until leaving it dry. She censors the censor. Hamlet Lavastida pierces speeches, posters and all the visual imaginariness of power in the 1960s in Vida profiláctica (Prophylactic Life) and Aimée embroiders. That is how decorative pieces trivialize any original meaning. Gags and mufflers hiding the official speech. The syndrome already fades away. She wants to make visible that she hides, and she achieves it. She goes from syndrome to pragmatic. Goes clear and soft, because embroidery is a noble thing.

Discurso SuprematistaSuprematist Speech, 2015

With them (the embroidered newspapers) she creates large panels that may be divided according to the space. If she could have a big panel of them, they could be wallpapers: an entire wall upholstered because, as I said before, are decorative enough for that purpose.

But Aimée does not forget the human figure and, in parallel to her curious speech, she was already plotting how to settle her lady, the one in red. It would be (and was) a beautiful male model, dressed in a red color outfit: a hybrid between a military uniform and a bride prince satin dress subtly embroidered. When she told me her idea I thought about her garden (El jardín de la intolerancia) in an elliptical way, but suddenly a spark led me to Tiziano and his The Rape of Europa, that red cloak, that beautiful woman who many coveted and, at last, the sea, a place where the kidnapping is carried out. Aimée’s lady would have those ingredients. Since I was a student I had that book, The Golden Age of Venetian Painting, bought in the Czech House of Culture together with Water Music, by Handel, and Harold in Italy, by Berlioz. In my modern complex of a peasant girl who did not come from the Lenin School, (1) I mixed all that with my readings of Philosophy, good rock and roll, Southern music, domino and Turquino nightclub, where I could go because my friend had a fake passport as a Spanish citizen. But I had that book and believed myself cultured; and other link came to my head: it may be Tiziano, but I am more convinced by the temporary and almost storyboard notion in the The Rape of Europa by Veronese. Because, after all, Aimée’s piece passes through the living sculpture to the installation, but also through the performance and this, of course, holds back time: it is an action progressing until the youngster takes off his clothes and the entire red cloak-dress is thrown away, as if he had been abducted, in front of the sea.

But Aimée, who had a period of tributes and pastiches, had not even though on that connection I love because there is an aura of pictorial references hanging about all that and might serve as a ruse before any censorship. Because The Lady in Red is Cuba, transvestite and prostituted, full of moral deceitfulness and sacrifice, propped up by the agencies of all her “sweet Cuban warriors”. In fact, in the imaginary of the people approaching the performer were Saint Barbara and The Little Prince, and there were some who rendered their cult in those hours the action lasted. Then Cuba, who is a whore, a red zone (red-light district) and a pink zone (tolerance zone), undresses and her clothes are exhibited in a display case the entire month the Biennial lasted. From altar to pedestal: that was its cycle. The homeland flew.

Because Aimée does not wet but soaks. And I understand that her most recent exhibition, in Couturier Gallery in Los Angeles, was again entitled Suprematist Speech; and because she knows she may annoy the market, but not always, or because she does not know what to do without the portrait, Aimée returned to her best known linguistic resource: the self-portrait. You may imagine: she dresses with those embroidered newspapers and returns to narration, now more contained. The design of the wardrobe and the composition are exquisite. Her soul is still fresh.

Chaleco/Vest, 2016

A “povera” rarity in Times Square

In an almost definitive discussion, Coco tells Igor that she is as talented as he is. The Russian, without thinking on it and shielded in the vanity of what is artistic, answers his hostess: “It is not the same”. Of course it is not the same! Regarding geniality, both were geniuses; and regarding efficiency and the wide audience, she exceeded him. But he did not notice that (it was not his place, strictly speaking), and his answer involves much disdain and superiority. At this phase of the game, who is more talented, Coco Chanel or Igor Stravinsky?

Aimée García, belonging to a generation of Cuban artists defined as cynical, knows about the ego and the aura, but also about efficiency and instrumentality. She knows that the aseptic varnish of a gallery or a museum is not the same as the ferment and contamination of the public scene. Invited by Cuban Art Found and Times Square Arts to make a project of public intervention in Times Square, she very well knew that however megalomaniac she was, her proposal would never be sufficiently hegemonic compared with the fascination and visual strength gathered in that confluence of corners. But what is fascinating generally overwhelms a reason that took Aimée to opt for a subtle project, which would counteract the effect of bewilderment of that “image container” placed in the heart of Manhattan. Times of Silence is the title she chose for a proposal consisting in the location of three structures that displayed totally embroidered Cuban and North American newspapers. This is an amplification of the Suprematist Speech with a contextualized title.

With Times of Silence she continues that operatory: embroidering local and insular newspapers is not only overruling a space of power, but creating a space of mental rest in the midst of the visual information of that square. Such a hyper-real avalanche that becomes empty and abstract. Aimée suggests a counterpart to the “useless perfection of the image” and offers a free oasis, a soft interstice or a zone of silence in the midst of the stressing bustle of Times Square. The Zen-sense contemplation—with a given dose of intrigue—is the last goal of that work.

Times of Silence. 2016. Photo: Sara Kerens

Three structures located as totems that do not reach the solemnity of the obelisk (they do not pretend it either), but which play with efficiency their role of being a povera rarity within the dominating high tech of the area. Thread, gazette paper, embroidery, all in all, handicraft versus a mole of leds, simultaneity and performances. The preferred ephemeral handmade located in the imperturbable heart of the asphalt.

With Discurso suprematista and Times of silence—series somewhat indebted to concrete art—Aimeé García reaffirms a conceptualist vein which sporadically was appearing in her work (2). The intertextual castling of Times… has been double: it blemishes the text and appropriates the name of the square to create a totally opposed meaning. She, who was the queen of the self-portrait, has known how to dispense it, diluting in an also beautiful work with multiple authors.


  • Vladimir Ilich Lenin Vocational School, Havana. An elite educational institution of secondary and pre-university education, created to train students from a high scientific level, promoting research.
  • If in 2011, when I co-curated the exhibition Ya sé leer. Imagen y texto en el arte latinoamericano, in the Wifredo Lam Center, one of those works had existed It would have made a curious pair with the Desclasificados of Chilean Voluspa Jarpa. Now curators Francine Birbragher-Rozencwaig and Oscar Roldán Alzate have had the luck of having it in the exhibition ConTexto. Palabra, escritura y narración en el arte contemporáneo. Museum of the Antioquia University and Sala S, Faculty of Architecture, National University, Medellín, Colombia.