And as if that wasn’t enough...
By: Miriam P. Casanellas, Photos: Courtesy of the artist
Rafael Pérez Alonso is a Cuban contemporary visual artist who has been steadily producing art for over thirty years.
As for many artists, the creation and production of Rafael Pérez Alonso’s work are the center where the many facets of his existence come together. Today his vast repertoire ranges from painting to sculpture, printmaking to design; lines of work developed with creative independence in most cases, while recognizing that at times some served as support and complement to another.
Two themes based on creation run through Pérez Alonso’s work: Man as a social being, as center of the universe, origin and end of the life cycle and Nationality, from its insular edge in this case, from which anyone who considers himself an islander cannot escape, oblivious to any human will and solely dependent on Divine will.
Pérez Alonso has approached Man as central theme from all possible angles. Pieces such as El Pensador (The Thinker, 2012) summarize more than a decade’s work.
This sculpture of an inert man was shown at Havana’s 12th Biennial. From his own height he contemplates the reality that exists below his feet, of which he is a part. Having achieved a certain desired distance from the crowd he is able to peacefully observe and decide whether or not he wants to be a part of it.
Five meters high, the piece overwhelms spectators with a sense that all our actions and responses are observed by beings who managed to distance themselves from reality and in so doing, come to understand it.
Skylines, a series produced in 2013 and exhibited at Havana’s Grand Theater Origins Gallery, brings together fourteen pieces with Havana as the starting point, more specifically from its coastline where the seawall is the protagonist. The Malecon welcomes us if we look at it from the horizon and sends us off if we approach it.
Havana dialogues with other cities chosen by the artist, some visited, others not, mostly industrialized and belonging to the first world: Madrid, New York, Moscow, London, Chicago, Shanghai, Beijing. The contrast of two realities highlights the longing of those who have chosen to leave nearly five hundred years of history and tradition to enter an agitated world that provides the necessary financial resources to survive. He, the artist, always gives us the option to discern, gives us the power to choose when we in the end have the last word.
The use of the map, either as aid or central theme, is another edge that came with hard work. The pretext is that every islander needs to know what is on firm land. The anxiety that some have knowing that they are surrounded by water carries a relentless pursuit of the inner human being. Recognizing ourselves and knowing we are different from others shows that we possess wisdom of choice and decision- making, an act that comes from reason and intellect, with no room for error. Up to this point, empiricism has no place.
The island of Cuba recurs over and over again... an island that discovers itself, a sleeping cayman for many. For the artist it has one connotation: a 69. Cuba’s own history, a mediated republic 1901 to 1959, overflowing with vice and entertainment, with great potential for feminine beauty, able to seduce the most influential of the time... the stereotype that later the Cuban Revolution (1959 to date) tried to erase from human consciousness yet the political situation and the so-called Special Period reaffirmed, a sexual paradise.
That is why the island as a 69 has a singular form and connotation, more if we stop to observe the figures that comprise it: two women. Beyond what we could consider a lesbian discourse, we are actually witnessing an exchange that generically tries to give women their autonomy back, recognizing it not only as essential to human existence itself but restoring the ability and the right to feel pleasure, not as the object of criticism where this society sought to place it in the hard years of social crisis.
Versatile work imbued with social and political overtones, to which man is unable to remain inert. To make us react to what we think is wrong, at what seems absurd, given what we think is right, to what we find beautiful—that and that alone is the claim of this artist. If only it were that of every man!