Symbolism in Contemporary Cuban Art
Ibrahim Miranda & Aliosky Garcia Sosa
April 16 – Jul 17
The exhibition, La Experiencia Velante, the Veiled Experience, explores the concept of symbolism in contemporary Cuban art through the works of Ibrahim Miranda and Aliosky Garcia-Sosa.
Symbolic language is the one foreign language that each of us must learn. – Erich Fromm1
The veil or veiling speaks of disguise, mask and pretense. The works of Ibrahim Miranda and Aliosky Garcia-Sosa are imbued with the pretense of meaning, veiled is symbolism. Their images serve as lexicon and index, legend and map – providing clues, establishing location and direction. Veiled in the pretense that masks the real meaning of their narratives, their symbolism functions as language and thus is intended to be ‘read’.
From the printing of labels for cigar boxes and produce crates to posters to the more serious tasks of social inquiry and critique, Printmaking plays a prominent role in the Art of Cuba. Miranda and Garcia-Sosa are masters of the discipline and it is upon that tradition that their work is anchored.
Ibrahim Miranda’s work reflects dedication to printmaking as a time-honored craft possessed of
inexhaustible expressive capacity and creative potential. Miranda, working in the graphic medium of silkscreen (Serigraph) has developed his own unique language that has incorporated that discipline with that of the cartographer as well as contemporary pop culture icons. In Miranda’s “Dumbo and the Candies” series, the artist explores between Cuban identity, its history and its mercurial relationship to its powerful neighbor immediately across the Florida Straits. Miranda looks at how commodity shapes the interaction – wary, politically motivated, polarized, sometimes covetous and not altogether certain about where recent changes will ultimately lead, but hopeful nonetheless.
The dominating image is that of the innocent child giant, Dumbo, the elephantine toddler of Disney fame, its trunk reaching down the Florida Peninsula and toward the tempting treats of Cuba; treats that for so long have been denied to it. However, like many of great stature, Dumbo, though well-intentioned, is oblivious of his own destructive potential. Dumbo is an elephant in the china shop where even the slightest act can wreak havoc. The Cubans themselves covetous the goodies of the world, risk opening the door to their own obliteration – their unique culture wiped off the map by their zeal for American commodities and life-style. Identity and culture factors strongly in Miranda’s art.
Proyecto Cubrecamas (Bedcover Project), a marriage of tacit and explicit symbolism, the union of contemporary art idioms with those of folk crafts born out of recent turns of fortune in Cuba. Cubrecamas, literally ‘bedcover’ or ‘bedspread’ in Cuba refers to the craft of the patchwork quilt. In Cuba this is a relatively ‘new’ tradition which sprung from the dissolution of the Eastern Block and resulting deprivation wrought by the collapse of the Cuban-Soviet partnership. Cubans innovated, improvised and generally became masters of recycling and repurposing. Cloth scraps are collected and sewn into elaborate quilts in lieu of store bought bedspreads. Like their off-island counterparts, the Cuban Cubrecamas are possessed of an eloquent home-spun beauty. They reflect the old and the new, incorporating traditional folk design as well as modern pop iconography, often both in a single bedcover.
The works themselves that comprise the Cubrecamas are the product of a collaborative effort in which the artist enlists the participation of the community at large. The artist’s goal was to “rescue some of the patchwork techniques so commonly used by the seamstresses, namely by those who do their work in rural regions”. Traditionally, the patchwork coverlets are pieced together from scraps of recycled fabric and textiles. Once sewn, Miranda executes a personal lexicon of symbols upon each Cubrecamas in the form of black embroidery. In this incorporation of castoff materials repurposed for utilitarian then repurposed again for artistic function the artist explores concepts of commodity and domestic implications. This exploration is given further nuance and layering of meaning in the artist’s subsequent loaning out of the completed bedspreads to people with which to interact as objects symbolically imprinting upon them that bodily proximity.
Garcia-Sosa is the head of the Printmaking Department at the Instituto Superior de Artes (ISA), Cuba’s
premier teaching institution. His goal is to teach the time honored tradition of Printmaking to future generations of Artists and to demonstrate that printmaking, though venerable, nonetheless remains a vital creative medium, capable of sustaining its relevance in the age of digital technology and proliferating images.
Garcia-Sosa’s work is solidly grounded in the processes of printmaking, and is dominated by pseudo-surreal symbolic imagery, and like surrealism his content is shrouded in dream-like imagery. Likewise, those images are intended to function as language, one that requires interpretation by the viewer. For Garcia-Sosa they are the vehicle for keen observation and insights into the state of the Cuban experience – the “La Experiencia Velante” (The Veiled Experience) from which comes the title of this exhibition. The works express the social contradictions and challenges of life in Cuba’s Special Period, but also serve as a microcosm of more universal realities that define specific time or geo-political space.
The prints themselves are dominated by human figures and more often than not, are executed in high contrast black inks on an ivory white paper. This high contrast is typical of his preferred woodcut printing medium. The choice of high contrast combined with symbolic figures re-enforces Garcia-Sosa’s prints their dream-like quality, and indeed, the artist is very much influenced by the language of dreams, and the requirement for a visual ‘literacy’ in order for his art to be ‘read’ to divine meaning. In this respect, Garcia-Sosa’s images printing’s typographic duties, if only conceptually. Both are intended to convey information through the process of reading.
Both Aliosky Garcia-Sosa and Ibrahim Miranda are artists whose respective practices, printmaking, sewing, et al, coupled with a symbolic lexicon, are married to the intrinsic and methodically ritual-like qualities of the processes by which their works are brought into being.
They exist in the realm of that forgotten language to which Erich Fromm referred – but one that continues to haunt our dreams with echoes linking the stories, tales and myths of yore with those of the present.
- The Forgotten Language. An Introduction to the Understanding of Dreams, Fairy. Tales and Myths. By Erich Fromm. (New York: Rinehart & Co., I951)
- The “Special Period”, refers to the time beginning in 1989 and coincides with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, ending of the Cuba/Soviet trade partnership and withdrawal of Soviet economic support. The period though one of economic and material hardship for the Cuban people also, among other developments, saw the rise of an arts and cultural environment free from soviet style creative strictures and mandates. Though materially challenged, the arts became more innovative, incorporating idiosyncratic and recycled materials, while using symbolic images to the critique of social conditions. Artistically the period is marked by a questioning of institutions and a search for authentic identity and the function of art in Post-Soviet Era Cuba. (See “Cuba- Art of the Special Period, The Graduate Center, CUNY, April 24, 2015, https://www.gc.cuny.edu/About-the-GC/Provost-s-Office/Diversity-and-Inclusion/Events-Calendar/Past-Events/Detail?id=28613)
- Woodcut Print, Woodcut, the oldest technique used in fine art printmaking, is a form of relief printing. The artist’s design or drawing is made on a piece of wood (usually beechwood), and the
untouched areas are then cut away with gouges, leaving the raised image which is then inked. Woodcut prints are produced by pressing the selected medium (usually paper) onto the inked image. (http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/printmaking/woodcuts.htm)