September 19, 2017, Havana

In irregular confidence

February 4, 2015
David Mateo
LA GACETA DE CUBA magazine, No. 2, March / April of 1997, year 35, pp. 50-51.

...Not a single word of anticipation or impatience. She knows that she is the main reason for this conversation and however she waits patiently for Segura to finish explaining his sculptural project. I have impression that I have seen her many times in the same attitude of deference, being generous as if everything else were of a higher station..
I really do not know if it is a matter of steadfast adherence or remembrance that I have ended up thinking that her serenity has nothing to do with an spouse's courtesy, but rather that being condescending was a second virtue after  her collographs.
”It seems that your work aspires to become universal, I told her, while she spreads a group of matrixes on top of a small table in her Alamar apartment. The first represented a woman fish, becoming an initiate in the spiritual world of two female river turtles; but the poetic atmosphere of the relationship between them is so touching that it almost seems to attenuate the allegory of the Abakuá legend and its particularly liturgical iconography; something similar I had already noticed with the inclusion of the Holy Ghost in one of the works awarded at the International Biennial of Maastricht.
— —To a certain extent, I have always been distant from the Abakuá mythology because my position is rather that of an observer. The distance in fact is the perspective in which I find myself to establish the analogies and to incorporate any universal experience in the specific logic of the myth. I could tell you, for example, about the workArrepentida which won an award in the recent Printmaking Contest. In this work a woman is tearing her skin off as a symbol of the ambivalence between what we want to be and what we really are. I believe that the Abakuá topic will be the starting point for a long time, the pretext for comparisons with life. The universe contained in its characters and of the narrative incidences is enough in itself to foreshadow any reason of human existence, an equivalence I have started to discern much more now with comparisons I am making between the Abakuá myth and Christian religiosity, with the purpose of creating something like a kind of personal saintliness.
—But you will not deny that the process of making the link between the specific circumstances of the myth and social cosmogony takes place through an exclusively female speculation? Do you remember when I told you that you insert a feminine ideal where it had never existed?
—I have never thought of my work as feminist. I have never had such built-in vocation. The first person who attempted to draw attention to that aspect was the critic Eugenio Valdés, and perhaps there is some degree of truth that my work induces certain femininity, since it reflects my own existential uncertainty; but I have not conceptualized it like that. Sikán’s legend is a theme that I have been working with in my prints since I was in San Alejandro and what has always called my attention is the female character’s status as a victim, but rather from a generic position, considering the connotations and the analogies that could be derived from such situation.
And why then do you insist in self-representation?
—It is true that I am the model of my figurations. Like me, they change from one condition to the other continually, and they even lose weight when I do. They are characters that I submit because I like the idea of deciding their fates. They are the only alternative for getting even, or for correction, to atone the term somewhat, with which I can presently count; however, I live a less mythical life, I exist in a much more objective, much more objective perspective.
To impose their fates on them would alter as a consequence the fictional Abakuá sense that you mention. Do you not fear offending the legend? What do the believers with whom you have made contact think about it?
— Most of the Abakuá that have seen my work are intellectuals, and in one way or the other they have felt identified with the project. Up to now I have not found any detractor. The mystery of the legend in itself, how hidden some of their meanings have been throughout history is what has, in fact, has given me the opportunity to make certain speculations, but my position has never been to reproach the Abakuá brotherhood, but on the contrary, to show respect and to disseminate it in its broader cultural sense.
In this part of the conversation we have already reviewed some six or seven matrixes, meticulously drawn with synthetic material, emery, carborundum, gesso and all kinds of uncommon products in the collographic tradition. I would like to ask Belkis what could happen if all those singular montages that are ready to render the effects that she has been anticipating, would have been drawn or painted in a canvas, and it is then when her frankness turns into stupor:
—    I have always been very bad drafting.  Perhaps  because it was never a requirement to have academic studies during my elementary schooling that in the  end I opted for printing. Without being totally aware I started to have a kind of trauma with drawing and painting and for that reason I began to look for a type of image that would be believable but that didn't stress fine anatomical details. Then I discovered that with detail synthesis I could protect more the mystery of the images, and that I should continue making emphasis in the posture, the expressions, and the eyes, trying to avoid certain definitions. Perhaps one day I will overcome my trauma and I will start to paint, but I am still not thinking about it.
In your opinion what are the immediate antecedents of your way of representation?
— I liked very much the Russian Byzantine icons. I would spend a lot of time contemplating them in the art books, until one day I discovered that they were perfectly comparable with the whole Abakuá imagery. I remember that was a time in which I researched the Afro-Cuban cults and specifically the anafouranas when something strange happened to me: I was in a class in San Alejandro trying to make a kind of dancing devil and Pablo Borges who was my professor at the time told me with the objective of kidding me that what was doing could have serious implications, and it was since then that I became interested in this kind of representation; although in those days my approach to the topic was purely esoteric.  The libraries denied any information and I even had to request a letter of authorization from the school. Regarding the Legend of Sikán, the reading of the book “El Monte” by Lydia Cabrera was a momentous occasion, although I became aware of the whole episode when I studied Enrique Sosa's “Los Ñañigos."
I have been about to tell Belkis about the two categories of the Canadian critic Northrop Frye: myth and compromise that, although they were not issued having in mind plastic arts specifically, through them one could also attempt an approximate allegory of her artistic chore.
But I have only been on the brink of doing this, because in the end I kept silent seeking more reasonings for the literal intervals. Something that could even run the risk of forced equivalences and would run more or less like this:
—     "Belkis Ayón’s prints could be interpreted from the viewpoint of critic Northrop Frye, who assures that art is "a laboratory in which the new myths of compromise are prepared in freedom."
Choosing the fable, in this case, takes place by visual and epic identification, mediated almost entirely by a profoundly feminine esthetical rationality -  apparently it does not mean the same than feminist, although she is approaching a myth that is profoundly male-chauvinistic – we would say that her work takes up a story representing the judgment of unequivocal value, from the point of view of the sexual nature of the character who plays it and transmits it, although such judgment disposes or alludes to phenomena of the cosmogony such as  good and evil, betrayal and sacrifice, and the confrontation between victims and victimizers, and it is precisely within those limits of chaos in which she incurs, restoring behavior standards and imposing alternative protagonisms. If we were to make allegories of Frye’s notions, her "new myth of compromise” would reside in the fact of opposing a sense of critical analysis to the hermetic interpretation of the mythological event and also in the additional purpose of extending those same experiences to other expressions of the inter-human links.
A tense and brief ending and no matter how you look at it, blessed. The speculator is rid of his guilt complex.
— Belkis, one thing is to believe in the conformity of all our irregular conversations or of our considerations on  plastic arts, and another is to go around commenting on the vindications in Cuban printmaking, just relying on the work of 6 or 7 artists, among which I intend to include you by the way, without at least having sought your opinion beforehand. Therefore, I will now take advantage of my opportunity: Am I or I am not right?
— I believe that currently Cuban printmaking is revitalizing concepts and important technical principles. In my particular case, I would tell you that I am interested in achieving a level of discursive and esthetical credibility in the matrixes and their final printing, and hence I try to generate value effects, even through color, experimenting with new materials. Tradition has also changed with other young printmakers from many points of view, fundamentally regarding experimentation with new supports, with the flexibilization of the approaches on the serialization with the dynamics, and even sometimes objection or parodies, of the habitual technical methods and in the consolidation of the trade’s ethics. And if all the previous may be called renovation, then I don't find it wrong if someone like you goes on telling about it.

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