The Museum of Contemporary Art of the Americas Facebook fan page has been publishing a series of short reviews about the female artists featured in its latest exhibition A mí me manda Carmen (Carmen put me up to this), a tribute to artist Carmen Herrera curated by Mónica Batard.
These short texts were written by artist and Executive Director Jorge Rodríguez Diez.
Many years ago, when I was just starting to explore the art world, my friend Jorge Gómez de Mello, a cultural promoter and art critic, took me to Sandra Ceballos‘ house to attend a performance by the artist Ángel Delgado. It may have been the 242900 exhibition in 1996, but I cannot confirm this. The exhibition featured a series of objects and installations that alluded to Delgado’s experience in prison, punished for the legendary performance he carried out at the Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales in 1990. In the presence of his mother, Ángel spent about half an hour under the mosquito net he used in prison, and opened the box that had been closed for several years, which contained his belongings as a prisoner – it was an extremely moving experience. Six years had passed between that performance and this one. During that time, Sandra founded Espacio Aglutinador with her then-partner, Ezequiel Suárez, in 1994.
It was no coincidence that the curatorial team, consisting of Sandra Ceballos herself, Ezequiel, Orlando Hernández, and Gerardo Mosquera, proposed that Ángel Delgado open up that box, whose items became artistic objects of immense emotional weight in the context of Cuban art history and national culture.
When Mónica introduced me to the selection of artists for her tribute to Carmen Herrera, Ceballo’s name was the one that excited me the most. This is because the institution owes recognition to such constant and necessary work. Without diminishing his work in the visual arts, I believe that her most transcendent work is precisely Espacio Aglutinador. Therefore, what I can say about this is the same as what I would say about her artistic work.
Sandra is a very original artist, absolutely consistent, who sees creation as a vital experience and who has influenced several generations of young artists. Her steadfastness has kept her standing for almost thirty years against the hegemony of official institutions aligned with a unilateral discourse. In the shadow of the state monopoly on cultural management, she keeps her space alive with enough mental openness to consider and validate projects whose essence ranges from general challenges to coercive or arbitrary norms, political irreverence, and extreme formal experimentation. Almost all the controversial or censored artists have passed through there. I attended several of her projects where top-notch artists exhibited alongside emerging young artists, alternative, and self-taught artists. It is a deeply democratic space that includes us all, where very senior artists who have been almost discarded by the national obsession with exhibiting mainly the work of young promises, both real and false, and increasingly younger ones, find their place. Artists who work with the official institution of any tendency, with the sole condition of respecting the work and aspirations of others, are also welcome. Almost nobody is excluded there.
Absolut Utopía is a series that started in 1992. Sandra set out to establish a connection between Russian Suprematists and Italian Futurists, whose works were discriminated against and considered “degenerate art” by both Fascism and Stalinism, with artists who suffered similar processes in Cuba at the beginning of the revolution, such as the abstract artists from the group “Los once” and the “concrete” artists. Many had no choice but to migrate to the United States or France. The officials of the Cuban government’s cultural and ideological system kept them “apart” for creating “bourgeois” art that was not representative of the revolutionary process and what they insisted on calling “the new man.”
At that time, the artist felt that she should revitalize the work of those European artists by integrating it into contemporary visions and creating versions of some of their paintings. She paid particular attention to the creations of Russian women artists who fled Stalinism to France, where some literally died of hunger. Each work bears a text: Absolut and the name of each of those artists. For the Carmen Herrera exhibition, she took one of her works from abstraction to a neo-expressionist version that is basically her natural expression.
Sandra’s work is now in the collection of the Museum, where it deserves to be.
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