For formal and conceptual approaches

Sacha Tebó became a model of the relations between the arts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. 

 

Critics praise its Caribbean character, without ever truly justifying what it consists of. Edward Sullivan enunciates his "hermetic mysticism"; Fernando Ureña Rib is quite vague about "something mystical, something ancient mosaic, something modern is woven into the work of Sacha Tebó"; while Amable López Meléndez claims that it "delves into our ontological devastations or the identity question. I do not think I can face the challenge of decoding its Caribbean essence referring only to two aspects, but these can contribute to doing so: the first is the visceral bond that its island exerts: born in Port-au-Prince, in 1934, it remains there until 1945, the years that mark the childhood of an indelible seal. Subsequently, he has constant comings and goings through the Caribbean, be it Miami, Mexico or Santa Cruz, and takes part in events related to the arts of the Caribbean, either the First International Biennial of Painting in Cuenca (1987, Ecuador); the Third Biennial of Painting of the Caribbean and Central America (Santo Domingo, 1996); Dominican and Haitian Parallel Art in a Caribbean Territory (with Myrna Guerrero in 1998); at the Museum of the Americas, Puerto Rico, 1999, Between lines; in Cariforo, 2001, Intercaribbean; or the VI Biennial of the Caribbean (Santo Domingo, 2003). None of this excludes his training abroad (Canada, Paris, Brazil), which would provide him with openness and allow him, if necessary, to reflect on his identity. The second component of its identity is the ability to move from a lively and harmonious color palette, from the sweetness of beeswax in its fabrics, to the rough, cutting and rough materials of jute fabrics, cut iron, of timber. The symbolic of slavery and the subhuman condition is expressed through the metonymies of the severed hands of the body, sacks of sugar, yokes, pieces of masts, of the assembly that takes the shape of a slave ship in Sugar (2003). That same year, the Cuban Carlos René Aguilera –who participated in the Biennials of Havana and the II of Santo Domingo–, made a series of paintings on multiple facets of sugar cane. The wave is endowed with luminous greens, with fields on which the guajiros - peasants in Cuba - surf, a wink of eyes to the always pressing work of the cane, where the workforce has no distractions, as surfing currently seeks them to tourists and idlers. Recently, the American artist, Kara Walker, produced an immense sugar sculpture, whose entire title clarifies the meaning of the work: A Sugar Baby Subtlety, a tribute to the burdened, self-employed artisans who have refined our sweet taste since the cane fields. to New World kitchens on the occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant in Brooklyn.

Obviously, the gaps multiply, the readings diverge according to the degree of metaphor developed in each work, some more poetic (Sacha Tebó), others playful (Carlos René Aguilera), or even more emphatic if we think of the sculpture by K. Walker, It weighs more than four tons and is more than eleven meters high. The plantation economies, consciously or unconsciously, have shaped the imaginaries of the region and its intellectuals. For example, we cannot separate them from the symbolic content in bananas, an eminently colonial production. It was the object of very particular interest from the nineteenth century.

In the case of Puerto Ricans, Francisco Oller introduced bananas in his still lifes since 1869 (Still Life with Bananas, Jug and Pajuiles); or Ramón Frade, who vindicates his Puerto Rican identity in El pan Nuestro (1905), practicing an ellipsis through this religious reference. Bunches of bananas also accompany the daily life of the Negros de Limón (1936), by the Costa Rican Manuel de la Cruz González. Their representations arise between islands or coastal strips and then function as an identity element without special claim. Later, Inés Tolentino, José Alejandro Restrepo (Colombian), Jean François Boclé (Martinican) or Miguel Luciano (Puerto Rican) seized the bananas as memory detonators of numerous stigmas. Inés de Tolentino does not intend to resort to the fictional memory developed by García Márquez, among others, in Vivir para narla; nor does it seek to question the official story through the massacre of banana farmers in Colombia, which Restrepo addresses in Musa paradisíaca, from 1993; nor does it refer to the work of Jean François Boclé in Boat (2004) or Banana Project Episode I (2007); not even Banana Boy Project (2000) by Yasser Musa. Those “nor” do not mean that there is no kinship between them, but that it takes different paths that emerge in different places and times. Inés inserts the symbolic fruit in Every One His Way (2007), a work that shows great delicacy in the way it approaches sensitive themes, to which the quality of the drawing contributes. Here it is the association that gives meaning, full of nuances: scattered bananas, the presence of battle tanks, portraits of the dictator, erotic female legs, the dog, the count of the days of confinement, all contribute to a fragmentary vision of the history of the Dominican Republic.

Marcos Lora Read had approached this fragmentary vision of history through Cinco car-Rosas para la historia (1991), exhibited at the IV Havana Biennial. Very dense from the plastic point of view, this installation shed light, in a proper sense and in a figurative sense, on the exploitation of man, the slave trade, even mentioning the name of the first slaves.

If we refer to history, the European diachronic approach does not correspond to the discontinuous, non-linear history of the continent and the archipelago. First of all because the latter was built, reported and transmitted by the dominator. In addition, each country knew different histories and yokes, depending on the colonizer - Spanish, English, French, Dutch, North American - and independences, whose dates are staggered from 1804 to 2010, that is, for more than two hundred years. When Edouard Glissant uses the beautiful metaphor of "jumping from rock to rock", he emphasizes the need to gather history panels separated by gaps, establish missing links, temporary or cultural, to revisit the silencing. This is a constant of the arts of the Caribbean, and certainly because of this we can speak of a constant Caribbean.

While Radhamés Mejía fragments his canvases, while weaving his funds with a thousand signs, his language is polysemic. It refers to the spatial fragmentation of which he became aware of physically moving away from the Caribbean, and consequently of its historical fragmentation, as well as of the graphic compartmentalization present in art since antiquity - Egyptian art - to our days, passing through the codes of comic and the New figuration. At the same time, it inserts symbols of Taíno culture, reminiscent of religious rites, as possessed by several worlds that are balanced, with no difference between the rites of voodoo and those of Santería (Song of the Sorcerer, 1994 and Ritual Phases, 2001) . María Aybar is also at the confluence between Voodoo and Santería, and creates a magic-religious space that goes beyond the inner border. His inheritance has been transmitted thanks to displacements of anecdotes: The birth of the gagá (Paul Giudicelli, 1960), The sacrifice of the goat (Eligio Pichardo, 1958), the recognition of syncretism, as indicated by the black Virgin of Marta Pérez (1987) o Santa Marta the Dominadora, by Jorge Severino (1977). This identity claim, in fact dictated by a vital need, considers this component less as a source of wealth than as a factor of marginalization (Carlos Sangiovanni, Religion, rites and marginality, 1983).

Mejía and Aybar are close, in a certain way, of the Cuban José Bedia, who resorts to the Mexican pre-Columbian sources and those of Africa, where he says to revitalize, inaccurate term in the measure that the cultures contributed by the African slaves were diluting little by little , modifying, reconstructing itself when taking other routes. The difference between Mejía and Bedia is that the former expresses a culture of the lived, based on the intuitive, in the pronounced chromatism, while the second analyzes it, deepens its search. We think of the Haitian Franz Guyodo, whose macabre sculpture The Baron of the Cemetery enters in correspondence with The Baron of the very luminous Cemetery of Chiqui Mendoza (1991), which refers us to his famous Altar for a metresa (1992), to Santiago Olazábal and to Manuel Mendive, who support their search based on their practice of the Yoruba rites, as Belkis Ayón did, in a documented way, around the Abacuás.

We note then that some links are woven from common cultural fragments and rituals, giving rise to practices with different but not remote solutions, some more intuitive, others more assimilated, others more intellectualized. All try to appropriate fragments of their history, trying to understand their genesis and, therefore, the Other that is neither completely similar nor completely different.

The art of the Dominican Republic, endowed with many facets, can be described as “one and multiple” presenting, at the same time, formal, thematic, conceptual and ideological relationships, as well as common approaches with other plastic expressions of the Caribbean. We cannot isolate, for example, the masks of Jorge Pineda and the heads of Venezuelan Carlos Zerpa. Let us remember the repeated presence of the latter in the first two Havana Biennials, his subversive aura and his passion for the syncretic cultures of Latin America. Similarly, En tu piel, by Miguelina Rivera, approaches Jaula corazón, by Zerpa. The masks of Oh Taschen, Oh Taschen, Oh Taschen or the heads of Mambrú, from Pineda, send an echo to that of Santo, from Zerpa, making similar references to horror and violence. These formal relationships of collective scope are somewhat similar to the individual portraits of Hew Locke (Guyana), Mario Benjamín (Haiti), Guyodo (Haiti), the self-portraits of Arnaldo Roche (Puerto Rico), or the faceless portraits (2007) by Ernest Breleur (Martinique).

The mask plays, secularly, a role of identity vector and rites in African manifestations. The visual and conceptual charge does not correspond at all with the portraits made by Picasso, of course. On the one hand, for the relaxed periods of which we speak, but above all because the Picasso's questioning was first and foremost an intellectual construction. The Caribbean possesses in its flesh this inheritance as shown by Wifredo Lam; its artists, when resorting to masks, touch on the fundamental questions of the human being: the violence perpetrated by it or against it. Playing around multiple connotations with the socio-cultural origins, the consequences of colonization, the region's own practices, such as the Mexican struggle, the Mambrú de Pineda are connected with the children stripped of their innocence, enrolled in Africa, who refer us to the current consequences of colonialism.
But they also evoke the song that is intended for children in Europe and also in the Caribbean, Mambrú went to war, and through it, to the conscious and unconscious education spread by society to manipulate the essence of being. They dialogue with the tortured self-portraits of the plastics cited above, and with those of Breleur, insofar as they refer to another act of force, which consists in erasing any identity. In addition, Breleur encourages the unexpected, as Zerpa once again in The Force of Surprise. In this regard, Ernest asked 15 writers from several continents to make a portrait - in the form of a text - that could be applied to one of the creations of the Martinique, which increases the unexpected and its poetic and drives the imaginary and the Other.

Belkis Ramírez and Raquel Paiewonsky have addressed the issue of black women from different angles, echoing Belkis Ayón or even Glenda Heyliger. The anonymous portraits in Of the same wood (1994) - a game of words between the concept of battered women and the support used in the work - by Belkis Ramírez, associated with a disproportionate stone spear announce their next production. Indeed, the staging of their female characters is significant from several points of view. On the one hand, the engraving work with ink slots denies a living skin, dramatizes the expression of his empty gaze, of his rictus, makes them spectators of his own luck, with his hands behind his back. Hanging from the ceiling like skinned cattle in De MaR at worst, they transmit a drama coupled with their status as black, while insular, thanks to a game about the capital letter and the pronunciation of MaR / mal and / or prostitution that connote the lips violently painted. The imagination of the viewer before these 33 engraving matrices multiplies to infinity those figures in different directions -according to each one is observed, front or profile or three-quarters-, suggesting a multitude of other women around the world who face the same frustrations . On the other hand, the size of each of the 33 figures, which occupy a large space, impacts the viewer.

Belkis Ayón, who also revolutionized engraving, took other routes. She questioned the legends linked to the abacuás practices, in particular the very poetic Sikán.13 Consequently, Ayón worked on the taboos of those Afro-Cuban sects that do not accept the women in their group, and from that, established the relations between the place of women in African society and in Cuban society. His work is characterized by an extreme synthesis, which is valued by certain techniques such as flattened, without perspective, without light-dark, in a range of deep blacks. For her part, Raquel Paiewonsky addresses the issue from the photo and the installation; their expressive codes are very personalized and are endowed with a more conceptual than formal kinship with other artists in the region. The differences are established in their figures enclosed in specifically feminine, gagged attributes of erogenous protruding zones. The bodies he puts on the stage, such as those of Inés Tolentino and Pascal Meccariello (The body of the crime) communicate with the works of Marta María Pérez in Infrared (Introitos), but they are of a greater poetic degree.

Glenda Heyliger's speech undoubtedly rests more on her experiences, as evidenced by her installation The black book of life (1995), which she presented at the 2001th Havana Biennial. She expresses her personal memory, the pains of the past and her desire to free herself from them, to overcome them by burying them, as an act of expiation. In that, she is close to Miguelina Rivera in Nostalgia for an illegal or Maná (1991). She mixes cuaba soap, a Dominican symbol of multiple uses –such as those associated with intimate hygiene or healing virtues–, with essences and barbed wire, associating in an oxymoron what purifies, what hurts and relaxing smells . Heyliger and Rivera share a deep wound, one in their own flesh and the other more intellectualized, the engine of a reflection that is based on the exhumation at the same time as the burial. Rivera explores the facets of the adolescent in her maturity, of her relegation, on the basis of intimacy. Highlights the enclosure in On your skin. He masters the spatial process by pairing his sculpture, which plays with the ajar enclosure of a real bird, whose song symbolizes hope, and demonstrates an ability to reach various levels of interpretation. The woman, habitually inhibited by social, historical and family obstacles, becomes a cage when the roles are reversed; protective, motherly but equally oppressive. It is not limited to genre as it proposes Cage Man, which has correspondence with Carlos Zerpa's La caula corazón, Mi caula (1987) and La jaba / île –in fine reed or royal palm– by Kcho (Cuba). The heart of America (XNUMX), by Juan Francisco Elso Padilla (Cuba), which unites wire, branches, and intertwined herbs, and which allows the viewer to glimpse through a certain cage, giving the impression of retaining it in its desiccated heart.

These plastic artists place the human being at the center of their concerns, based on their status as women; They are joined by Tony Capellán, Jorge Pineda, Alex Burke (Martinique), Osaira Muyale (Aruba), especially when his work focuses on the emblematic object of childhood, the doll. Certainly, it seems undeniable that they were sensitized by the meaning of the production of Louise Bourgeois; however, they reorient to their own context. Tony masterfully and monumentally assembles the dismembered fragments of the bathers carefully - I would even respectfully - found in Innocent Shipwrecks (1997), which echoes with Lives of the Third World (1996), as it is about children and broken lives of these regions, or also with Floating (2010).

The rag dolls or bathers of tattooed doll pinedianas place the viewer in front of the vexations suffered by women in the street, through dubious compliments, in societies where the oral occupies a preponderant place. The owners go over the wall, true metonymy of phrases thrown according to the machista criteria that remain a moment in suspense before falling. These dialogue with the rag dolls asphyxiated by ties, subject, anonymous and yet standing by Alex Burke in The Spirit of the Caribbean (2006-2007). Thus, the autobiographical component is one of the markers of these artists, and is inserted into a collective memory, as indicated by that work on "gender". It is the same with respect to the examination of migratory phenomena, which are also related to marginalization and social frustrations.

Cinco car-Rosas para la historia (1991), by Marcos Lora Read, which we have mentioned on several occasions, examines, with the irony expressed in the title and by the impressive dimensions that combined wood, iron and neon, the first waves of the slave ships, the eradication of the natives; while his installation Fuga de talentos (1989), about the self-exile of intellectuals, anticipated contemporary concerns. A few years away, we can draw a parallel between this and the installation Migraciones II (1994), made up of ten painted suitcases, with poetic but distressing titles, such as El Canto de sirenas, which Sandra Ramos (Cuba) presented at the V Biennial from Havana. In this work the artist internalized the phenomena of tearing apart from exile, which deprives the child of a capacity to choose and which breaks segments of his life. His suitcases serve less for theoretical reflection, as in Lora Read's work, than for the sensations transmitted by his intimate contacts. The regatta or Archipelago of Kcho made their contribution thanks to the arch of precarious boats, insular in shape, where memories are piled up, of which the exiles cannot get rid. This notion of stacking, although this time human, is present in Como sardinas en lata (1998), by José Sejo. Raúl Recio proceeds through allusive and poetic representations and Leo Núñez addresses, due to its connotations, memory, the essence of life as a “journey to the seed”, in his relationships with artistic practice through Journey to Matter (1998).

José García Cordero and Johnny Bonnelly unmask one of the dangers of illegal crossing in the canvas Boat People IV (1992-96) and in the sculpture Tibuturs (2003), with the same humor as Reynerio Tamayo (Cuba) in Taxi-Tiburon ( 2006), the same use of the word game and a very close language. Abel Barroso, apart from the allusions to the Florida Straits or the Mona Passage in Border Patrol, explores multiple frontiers in Obstacle Course (2010). It underlines the disastrous repercussions of migration within Third World societies, diasporas, the evolution of affections, identities, languages ​​(Intolerance, 2010) under a playful aspect. The works question memory, which contributes to utopias, to the thread of these mutations, each one thinking of taking and keeping a piece of what they have experienced, when everything fades or freezes. We will take the house as an example, a metaphor for the home and the place that brings together the family, the affection, the social.

Miguel Ángel Ramírez García's little houses sound out nothing in Nobody's Zone (2006), in dichotomy with (Up) rooted (1997), precarious, but planted on roots that raise them, by Annalee Davis (Barbados). These little houses express the inaccessibility of Raúl Morilla, the precariousness of Pascal Meccariello (La casa frágil, 2003), or those of Abel Barroso, Evelyn Lima Rivas (Living with the dark side, 2008), or Antonio Martorell (Puerto Rico ), about whose Portacasa Passport (1993) says: “The house in the
Aire finally offers a home - a portable home that they can carry 'on their backs like the turtle' wherever they go. It is finally a house they can understand, one according to their needs, with their interior geography more than their external circumstances ... Casa en el Aire celebrates those qualities of Puerto Ricans and immigrants everywhere, who keep the flying bus to thirty thousand feet in the air: resistance, humor, resignation, pride, vigorous cultural roots, and an infinite hope ".

The Carpenters (Cuba) have built their Transportable City (2000) around this notion of false conservation of roots, of the role of infidel memory, and this installation offers multiple approaches, as it is integrated into a Havana space that refers to the true Havana, thanks to the abyss, or occupying one or several museum halls, or even a cultural space that bears a different culture that demystifies memory.

We have seen in a transverse and rapid act the steps, not diachronic, of the revaluation of drawing and engraving to poor art and installation; It would be easy for us to refer to the sculpture in the installation, taking as examples Soucy de Pellerano, Yubi Kirindongo (Curaçao) or Franz Guyodo, who use the metal associated with other recovery materials, obeying different mechanisms. The installations allow to start from a matrix originally intended for engraving (Ramírez, Barroso, Chris Crozier) or generated by radiography (Breleur), highlighting the human footprint. These mix sculpture, video and objectualism, are endowed with energy, no doubt because the objects, extracted from emotional experiences, offer new discursive ways: dolls, which have a relationship with childhood, the playful or oniric world, but truncated in this case ; houses / huts, soaps, wires ... that exhume the atavistic fears generated by the oppressor, whether he exercised a brutal or more subjacent system of domination, sometimes silent but always powerful. Just as the photo authorizes Polibio Díaz to interrogate the myth of the Caribbean / Paradise in Paradise, Dominican York Series, 2008, the installations allow to question the insidious myths. The myth of the perception, falsified, of the identity in this case of the black that each one believes to recognize in I am leaving, by Jorge Pineda, although he is neither a real nor a black being. The myth of the superhero treated by Pascal Meccariello in Urns for small superheroes. These superheroes would correspond rather to anti-heroes, although covered with a different layer for each one. In addition, they remind us that disguise is part of the uses and customs of the Caribbean, and allow us to transmit in a lighter way serious or worrisome things. Halfway between optimism and irony, Meccariello encloses the children he identifies outside of reality to preserve his innocence, his illusions, making the urn, usually a metaphor for legality, a wall inviolable and full of light. This work connotes the anti-hero of Tirzo Martha (Curaçao), with Captain Caribe. This character corresponds to a relationship of force and the illegality inherited from piracy. Anti-hero who belongs to the popular class, humorously delivers a political message: fight for rights, identity and local culture.

It is singularly complex to approach the visual arts of the Dominican Republic, since they take us from one thematic nuance to the other, from one conceptual nuance to the other, from connotation to connotation, from echoes to echoes, in a kind of wandering that is not such. since each one makes us aware of the deep ties that weave and unite them. Contemplating their works, we have the impression that plastic artists model in our mind and sensibility an approach similar to theirs, that is, through the spiral. Tony Capellán is a teacher in this regard. His installation Shot to the Target, composed of urinals in the same color range, is in accordance with the movement of cyclone Georges, which inspired him; One by one, Capellán recovered them on the shore of the beach, from that powerful Caribbean Sea, after the waters had carried them away from their homes, depriving the children of the bare minimum. For its part, the assemblage Tierra de sol (1998) testifies to an expressive and aesthetic richness consistent with his concerns of all kinds: denatured childhood, women and the abuses perpetrated against them, the dramas of migration. This whirlwind connotes with Vertigo weekly (2006), by Mónica Ferreras de la Maza; with Este es el camino (2000), by Santiago Olazábal; with Plagatox, by Raúl Quintanilla (Nicaragua); with Growing up withoutan echo (1997), by Annalee Davis; Pu (n) ta María (2001), by Glenda Heyliger; or also with El silencio (1997) and Time machine (2011), from the project Silhouette, by Osaira Muyale, through multiple concerns.

The spiral responds to natural phenomena, but also to the movements so present in the life of the region, and consequently in the culture. It does not seem, in fact, vain to remember that Frankétienne had created the school of "spiralism" in 1965, in order to apprehend a reality in perpetual motion. The visual arts of the Caribbean are not suited to linearity, neither temporal nor spatial. Dominican works are becoming complex, enriching themselves throughout the production, echoing with others, adopting formal codes that are close or resolutely different. Their interactivity and dialogues constitute one and diverse discourses that are never static. Many times ephemeral, seem to err before rediscovering and interlacing layers of time, space, codes. They are loaded with poetry, they move in humor or irony, they offer playful facets, they throw myths to the ground, dominations of all kinds, they are driven by "une trouvaille", by the unexpected. "They make network and constitute volume," says Edouard Glissant.16 Reasoning and resonating are the pillars of their practice. The resonances vibrate in their work, projecting themselves bouncing to the bottom of the soul, to the entrails, and to the five senses of the spectator, sending it to the shores and fringes of the Caribbean, thanks to this archipelagic thought.

We have tried to discern the formal and conceptual kinships between the productions of Dominican artists and those of the Caribbean, identifying incessantly the fusions, the combinations, the interlacing that provoke new rhizomes. Numerous plastic artists do not enter into this analysis, which has not been exhaustive, others were the subject of comments too brief, but my book The visual arts of the Caribbean; Criollos and citizens, in the process of publication, will complete this chapter extensively.

Taken from the Book Braiding a History in Progress, Contemporary Dominican Art in the Context of the Caribbean

Michele Dalmace, Critic and art researcher. 
Professor at the Michel de Montaigne University, Bordeaux

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