A relative of the alligator, the caimán is known for roaming the Caribbean rivers of Central and South America, with its ridged back cutting through the river. The new group exhibition BoxHeart Gallery, Del Caimán: With eyes of stone and watertakes its name from the fearsome creature to explore the new and fabled legacies of Cuban art.
Ten Cuban-born artists will be represented in the BoxHeart exhibition, which is on view now through November 4th. Del Caimán, an organization dedicated to showcasing Cuban art, organized the event.
BoxHeart has promoted the show as the first Cuban art exhibition of its kind coming to Pittsburgh. As explained in an email from the longtime Bloomfield gallery, With eyes of stone and water was presented first at the University of Havana, then in New York City, and is touted as the work of “Cuba’s top artists,” including Eliseo Valdés Erustes, Nadia García Porras, Juan Carlos Verdial, and others.
Rafael Migoyo, President of Del Caimán, is listed as the exhibition’s guest curator, although he prefers the title of co-curator.
“I call it co-curation because I don’t want to take all the credit for the conversations I’ve had with the artists,” says Migoyo. “I want the artists to decide for themselves which works truly represent the experience of being in Cuba.”
There are motifs that can be gleaned from the exhibition, but Migoyo says a dead-end meaning isn’t what he was aiming for. “We didn’t mean to say the focus is on water, trees, dancing, music. No,” says Migoyo, “we are a big culture. We’re not just all these little things.”
Five portraits by Daniel Ortega Beltrán, one of the younger artists in the exhibition, stand out. Beltrán’s paintings often feature subhuman figures, whose bodies are surreal fusions of anatomy and objects. In Super Alfa B2, the character’s head is replaced with a medicine bottle that ceremoniously bears the prescription for Alfa 2b – a drug used to treat cancer and viral infections.
Beltran’s “Feria de los Pájaros” presents a different vision. The title means “fair of the birds”, the name of an outdoor market in Argentina. The painting shows a figure subsumed by crazy musical instruments – her waist covered by an accordion, her back dominated by a drum. But instead of a head, there is an open birdcage from which a stretched out bird has fled. Is her hope in the headlessness?
Migoyo says he wanted the exhibition to focus on all levels of emotions, not just their ultimate ends. “Not the beginning or end of an experience, but the transition from beginning to end,” says Migoyo. “The work you go through – the suffering, the joy, the work that has to be done to achieve something.”
A sense of transition and movement runs through the works, including Orlando Rodríguez Barea’s depictions of ships and water. His series of works entitled Travesia, meaning “intersection,” depicts ship-like structures with scaled-down people around them. In “Travesía N°7” people develop from fish to human or vice versa.
“A person could step onto the canvas and solve the ‘How do I navigate here?’ problem. different than the next one,” says Migoyo. “Especially when we all have different goals that we want to achieve.”
With Belki’s Martin Mateo, movement looks a little different – it’s a departure from the depicted object. Mateo begins with a photo from her geological studies, then manipulates it to illuminate a new structural reality. The result is an iridescent blue, the hint of earth and vegetation just a hint.
Also on display are works by Evelio Toledo Quesada, Isolina Limonta Rodriguez and Juan Blanco Lozano.
The artists in the exhibition represent a range of Cuban experiences that Migoyo says were important to him in creating Del Caimán. His father was the manager of several well-known artists in Cuba, helping them get their work into galleries for exhibitions. But when Migoyo’s family moved to America, his father’s opportunities fizzled out. “Because of the translation – he can’t speak English – and the cultural difference, he couldn’t continue his passion,” says Migoyo.
Migoyo created Del Caimán in response to this experience, to ensure that Cuban artists are taken seriously around the world. However, international exhibitions bring their own problems, and Migoyo is aware of the cultural confusion that can arise when Cuban art is presented in a foreign country.
“A lot can get lost in translation,” says Migoyo.
In curating the exhibition, Migoyo focused on the emotions behind the works and how the art can speak true in an international setting while preserving its Cuban origins.
“If you go to Cuba and you stand on the Malecon, the famous walkway that runs parallel to the port, and you look out and you hear the water crashing against the wall and the water hitting you in the face — it can happen anywhere in the world, but the The way you feel about this situation is unique,” says Migoyo.
As one walks through the exhibition, one need only look around to appreciate the stylistic diversity that Migoyo celebrates in the artists’ works. Barea’s celestial depictions of oceans are balanced by artists such as Jorge Hidalgo Pimentel, who works with an alchemy of paint, petroleum and gasoline to create smoldering textures reminiscent of the mystical spirits that inspire his 60 years as an artist.
Despite the different techniques, Migoyo tried to portray the inescapable persistence of Cuban artists, says Migoyo.
“One of the things we focused on was asking ourselves, what are these emotions, what are these fundamental aspects of Cuban culture and identity that inspire us to get off the dance floor and dance?” says Migoyo . “What are the things that make us dance and laugh and cry and suffer all night and keep moving forward despite the suffering?”
Del Caimán: With eyes of stone and water. Lasts until November 4th. BoxHeart Gallery. 4523 Liberty Avenue, Bloomfield. Free. boxheartgallery.com