My last refrain: Oh my body, make of me a man who always questions.
When we talk about the work of Diago (Juan Roberto Diago Durruthy, Havana, 1971), I always like to remember — maybe an occupational habit as an historian, and not by way of an anecdote, but rather as an important fact that affirms the intellectual genealogy that precedes him — that he is the grandson of one of the most important figures of Cuba’s 20th Century avant-garde movement. The legacy of his grandfather, Juan Roberto Diago Querol (Havana, 1920 – Madrid, 1955), together with the pre-eminence of Wifredo Lam, constitutes one of the most significant notes in the island’s pictorial modernism; home grown, not the one imported from Europe, in which Africa appeared only as a synthesis within formalistic expression. So the early Afro-descendant consciousness that awakened Diago’s imaginaries comes as no surprise, becoming political and ethno-racial agency that has taken him on a return transatlantic journey through which he emphatically explores the footprints of the African diaspora, revealing a Pan-Africanist drive for resistance that pierces the labyrinth of historical time and the violence of a silence imposed by the modern/colonial world system on the bodies and subjectivities of enslaved and racialised persons.
One of the ways discovered by Diago to weave such connections with his ancestors and the past is in the use of materials, usually raw canvas, recycled wood and metals, fragments of media that he fuses by means of montage and collage, making no attempt to disguise the traces left by this fusion in search of residual perfection, but rather leaving them in full view to metaphorise the scar, the keloids (the sign that represents the terror of the foreman’s whip on the backs of the black slaves who worked the plantations). In that mark lies the symbol of the violence of colonial extractivism on an entire continent, of the rupture inflicted on communities, families and ways of life, and knowledge that had to be reconstructed from broken memories to reconfigure a different, syncretic and hybrid knowledge, from the otherness of subaltern voices against the white, male, western, bourgeois, heteropatriarchal, christian subject. The artist stitches his fabrics and through that gesture seems to want to recompose those scattered memories. He uses this same procedure when soldering onto a metal surface, which translates back into a scar. Using these methods of assembly, his compositions are segmented into levels and geometric areas that inevitably penetrate the very history of modern art and abstraction to stress the different discursive axes that overlap in his works in the manner of a palimpsest. It is impossible when contemplating Diago’s works not to think about the process of whitening or bleaching carried out by European modernisms on material cultures and objects whose anthropological function was displaced by the exercise of an aesthetic synthesis of European isms that occurred in the first half of the century.