Under the Art in the Community Program

Halando parejo

On Friday, September 8th at 6:00 in the evening, the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Americas in Kendall will inaugurate the "Body Language" exhibition in its transitional room. This is the first solo exhibition of Venezuelan artist and sculptor Nurit Birnbaum in the United States.

Curated by Mónica Batard

September 22th - October 6th | 2023

"Halando Parejo" primarily focuses on the challenges they've faced in integrating into a community that operates under paradigms vastly different from those they've known throughout their lives. It's an exhibition of, one might say, cathartic nature. A significant portion of Cuban art over recent decades addresses political themes. Once an artist leaves the island and their circumstances shift, so too may their interests, and, indeed, the very audience of their art. Their themes and concerns might undergo transformation, often becoming more introspective, revealing a starkly different reality in their work. It's commonplace to notice the thematic focus pivoting towards the artist themselves. We are presented with the rare opportunity to compare—and attempt to reconcile—works produced in disparate, even antagonistic, contexts, observing how the frequently hostile environment influences the poetic essence of one artist versus another and how this is mirrored in their work. Subjective qualities such as intensity, intricate execution, and the projection of their pieces provide a supplementary information package that allows a more comprehensive view of each artist.

By Jorge Rodríguez Diez (R10)

With deeper insight and a fresh perspective, remarks the exhibition's curator:

One cherished memory from my childhood is reading "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." I devoured the book in a matter of days, and it filled me with joy and ignited an unpredictable fervor within me. Its escapades, masterfully narrated by Mark Twain, assured me that imagination allows us to soar higher and is a direct path to freedom. That early intuition and subsequent longing for freedom led all of us, gathered in this room today, to discuss the challenges that entail — not just adapting to an unfamiliar and therefore hostile environment — but also to continue practicing our artistic endeavors. We, Cubans, satirize every circumstance. Therefore, even though this adaptation is a process that demands an unusual, often traumatic extra effort, we describe it as 'jamar' or 'halar soga' (pulling rope). An endeavor that, nevertheless, and perhaps because of this, is undertaken without the slightest respect, will ultimately make us better, or more whole, if you will. It will signify, once accepted as a permanent condition, a rebirth — probably at a higher cost than what we've paid for being part of such a unique system as the Cuban one for so long. 'Halando parejo', referring to the need to share the strain, also offers an opportunity to 'be' and, of course, to come together to share these experiences, engage with the audience on our terms, discuss the progress made, reconcile viewpoints, see where we are and what's left to achieve, and confirm that despite the weight, the 'rope' doesn't break.

The exhibition features a diverse group of creators, seven women and seven men, all born on the Island and all recent emigrants. The number and gender distribution is not arbitrary; it seeks balance, a symbolic sharing of the load and effort: the idea of community.

Osy Milian, for instance, gifts us with her signature feminine figures set against the backdrop of Pop culture visuals. They evoke Klimt's women, at times static, serene, and contemplative. Yet there are also shades of expressionism, where they appear sensual and expectant, with specific elements introducing a poetic weight that metaphorically connects with the concept of freedom. Maikel Linares straddles the line between painting and drawing. He perceives artistic expression as an exploration of the material he employs. Bonnard believed that the mystery of painting was concealed in its mid-tones. Maikel walks in the shadows, sidestepping any distinct style or movement, building his work from whatever is at hand in an exercise that could be described as formal cynicism. Evelin Sosa, on the other hand, primarily portrays her friends. Her work celebrates revealed intimacy; one might say she captures it as a candid, almost documentary testimony from her own innate shyness. If there is a hint of theatricality in some of her pieces, it's not on her. Lázaro Niebla is a material-centric artist. He painstakingly etches into the pieces of wood he finds until he uncovers faces weathered by the daily grind. He captures the essence of 'the rope' in its purest form like no other. His subjects are on the brink of physical surrender, though never morally. His sculpting abilities are truly hard to come by these days.

"Pulling Together" also introduces artist Ivonne Ferrer, a tireless producer of a language that at first glance reminds us of the artistic endeavors of the 90s in Cuba. She skillfully manages the visual codes learned during her study years and harmoniously fuses different techniques into a single piece. The meticulous attention to assembly results in perfect visual balance. For instance, she employs engraving techniques, tempering its impression with a timeless patina and glazes that soften the cold expressions of the line.

In contrast, Milena Martinez Pedrosa challenges the viewer from a personal mysticism. Her pieces establish a direct connection to the spiritual experience, evoking the fragility of organic life. Her sculptures are as vulnerable as fledglings, subtly recreating the danger of freedom and free will. In some way, they are a silent tribute to the opposing forces that either kill us or make us thrive—precisely the starting point of this exhibition. If these pieces were self-aware, sensing the risks of leaving their comfort zone, they might flutter agitatedly on their pedestals. Her most recent work aims to activate the emotional interconnections we share as both a dominant and dominated species, for we are prey to ourselves and the "other."

José Manuel Nápoles is an impulsive artist narrating his life journey, emphasizing, to this day, his tortuous path as an immigrant. He brings back characters he met along the way, representing them like figurines found in children's tales. He camouflages his exquisite training with seemingly brutal and blurred gestures. Yet, trained eyes discern an extraordinary care in every stroke. His works also serve as pages stitched from his personal diary, where he still battles the censorship that haunted him while on the Island. The roster also features an artist defined by the late Cuban critic Rufo Caballero as a cannibal who, like his work, devours himself: Niels Reyes. It's a daring definition, but possibly accurate. Niels's painting overflows with discontent, the relentless search of one who finds nothing seems not to lead him where he desires. Formal and conceptual probes revolving around themselves eventually enslave and dominate him, making him his own enemy. His mastery lies not only in the almost performatic use of his tools in a pinnacle of executive sincerity, such as nails and even teeth, but in the muted aggression with which all his portraits challenge us—figures trapped in an absurd geometry, governed by the flat and clumsy mathematics of ideology.

Naivy Perez is a conceptual artist adept at challenging notions of monetary value within capitalist powerhouses, where such value is not only understood in terms of its monetary representation but also how it's perceived and how it fluctuates depending on the context. She scrutinizes society from its development and through faith, comparing its economic management to its cultural, warning us of the vast contradictions between compulsive production and society's poorly managed compulsion toward frugality. To Naivy, freedom is a philosophical byproduct, the ashes of individuality's projection, a profound and potent phenomenon.

The antithesis of the claustrophobic confinement in Naivy's work can be seen in Daniel Díaz's pieces, who translates his sculptural background into a two-dimensional plane. His works reproduce, in his unique style, views of the south of England, where he currently lives and works. Brushstrokes are indistinguishable in landscapes that seem to emerge from spontaneous blotches. This dripping, perhaps slightly tinged with a cold eroticism, speaks to his longing for his homeland, which he has never revisited. His work is very much bound to his mood. Yanelis Mora also hails from another discipline, but the visual results she proposes are not entirely detached from her foundations. Each piece opens new paths of chromatic and morphological possibilities. She discovers them along the way, inking her snippets whimsically, in wonder. Even when her work is executed from preconceived patterns, the outcome is often unexpected. Her process is one of the most laborious, and the craft she likely inherited from her mother and grandmothers doesn't go unnoticed. Gerardo Liranza selects city spots he wishes to immortalize, glorifying them, transforming them into artworks. Similarly, he condemns them, and some argue he turns them into architectural martyrs. The city's insatiable thirst for beauty reveals itself in these monochromatic, melancholic urban landscapes, bolstered by the crutches of pristine geometry.

With his background in graphic design, R10 presents work that leaves no room for fantasy or arbitrary interpretations. For this reason, he meticulously ensures technical cleanliness and visual composition. His pieces are flawlessly crafted, executed from the very conceptual synthesis he would use to devise advertising or political propaganda. It's safe to say his entire body of work is, or aims to be, political and socially critical.

To avoid prolonging this text, I'd like to mention that my own work seeks to calm my desperation — the agonizing wait to reunite with my young son. I'm an artist who paints and draws to the point of pain, for self-flagellation doesn't deter me; it's currently the only way I know to pave the path — both physically and morally — that leads to him.

In summary, what binds us all is this accursed condition of being recent emigrants. We share the trials and tribulations of every new beginning, and we navigate as best we can the harsh tests society imposes on us, especially those who arrived before us. These pieces symbolically gather our frustrations, interests, and desires. They allow us to converge, to speak in a common language that resonates deeply and gives meaning to all the sacrifices: the language of art. It's time to pull together.

List of pieces on display

Evelyn Sosa
Paola, 2022
Ink jet print on fine art paper
(Cold Press Bright 305 gm 100% Cotton, Acid free)
1/3 + 2PA
36 x 24 Inches

Mónica Batard
From the Lorenzo series, Untitled, 2023
Graphite on Paper.
20 x 30 Inches (Left); 16 x 20 Inches (Center) and 20 x 30 Inches (Right)

Daniel Díaz
Winter in the South Downs, 2023
Acrylic on Paper
26 × 24 Inches (each)

Jorge Rodríguez Diez (R10)
From the Rorschach Series: Paciencia, 2009
Ink Jet Print on Canvas
(Acid free, 50% Cotton / 50% Poliester).
Edition 2/3
40 x 30 Inches

From Rorschach Series: La buena sombra, 2008
Ink Jet Print on Canvas
(Acid free, 50% Cotton / 50% Poliester). Edition 2/3
40 x 30 Inches

Maykel Linares Nuñez
The country of adjectives. 2023
Oil on Canvas
60 x 50 Inches

Osy Milian
Reserva, 2022
Acrylic on Canvas
70¾ x 63 Inches

José Manuel Nápoles
From the Lorenzo series, Untitled, 2023
Graphite on Paper.
20 x 30 Inches (Left); 16 x 20 Inches (Center) and 20 x 30 Inches (Right)

Yanelis Mora
Sol de media noche, 2023.
Foudation paper piecing
(Fabric on Paper Fusible Interfacing)
47¼ x 48½ Inches

Lázaro Niebla
(Left) Mocha Calderón, 2017
Polychrome bas-relief on wood
51½ x 20¾ Inches

(Right) Juan Naranjo Placeres, 2015
Polychrome bas-relief on wood
51½ x 20¾ Inches

Niels Reyes
Upper piece / Double Portrait (Doble retrato), 2023
Oil on Wood 12 x 14 Inches

Lower piece / Con el cabo del pincel (With the handle of the brush), 2023
Oil on Canvas
12 x 10 Inches

Gerardo Liranza
From the Celosias Series: Hoja de ruta, 2022
Oil on Canvas
55 x 42.7 Inches

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