Son de la habana

Manuel mendive · José Bedia · Juan Roberto Diago · René peña

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They come from Havana. They grew up in their neighbourhoods (Lugarno, Pogolotti) and today their names have shaped the history of Cuban contemporary art over the past five decades. Manuel Mendive (1944), José Bedia (1959), René Peña (1957) and Juan Roberto Diago (1971) belong to three generations of artists driven by the same desire to search, to unravel an archaic brutally sequestered identity, a forgotten past and origins leading to them, only recognisable in the DNA of their rites and rituals.


Manuel Mendive soon came to understand that Africa provided, as Wifredo Lam believed, the spiritual mud through which new Cuban art would bear fruit, paving the way for a “re-reading of the ancestral memory that ushered in postmodernity in Cuban visual arts” (Guillermina Ramos). For his part, José Bedia had the privilege of hearing Lam’s message from the man himself, whom he visited regularly in the early 1980s when Lam was admitted to hospital in Havana. Bedia’s work, now internationally renowned, went on to develop a complex “cosmography” (Orlando Hernández) in which primitive expression revealed a resolutely contemporary narrative.

When the subject of Rene Peña’s photography became himself, he ended up “calling check mate on the representative paradigms of the black man in Cuba, and paving the way to a geography of his own body, now understood as race” (Omar-Pascual Castillo). In René Peña’s work, everything that happens, whether it is enigmatic, activist, humorous, satirical, sensual or topographical, contains Peña himself. Although if we were to believe him, “…I never speak of myself, but I use myself to talk about others.”


“Diago’s work,” writes Ana Belén Sevillano, “preserves intact the gaze from which the work is created: the gaze of the Cuban black individual, which impresses upon him not only a specific perspective, but converges on that which is significant to him,” thus contributing to “the development of a specifically black aesthetic.” Nevertheless, Juan Roberto Diago’s work is based, as he himself acknowledges, on “an academic and Western artistic tradition that I have endeavoured to permeate with that gust of wind that is present in the very essence of my life.” The recent exhibition “Diago: The pasts of this Afro-Cuban present, organised by the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, affirms his status as one of the most solid and genuine creators of Cuban art so far this century.

Galería ARTIZAR wishes to thank Manuel Mendive, José Bedia, René Peña and Roberto Diago for their participation in this fortuitous transoceanic encounter; particularly, perhaps, Roberto Diago whose work is being shown at ARTIZAR for the first time and which we hope will become a regular fixture in our space and our projects, as the work of Mendive, Bedia and Peña has already become.

Carlos E. Pinto


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