One Cuban Artist Depicts The Sea As A Deadly 'Iron Curtain'
David Alm , CONTRIBUTOR
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
With one week left in his presidency, Barack Obama ended a policy that
allowed Cuban migrants who'd survived the perilous, often fatal 90-mile
journey to the United States to stay, even without the necessary papers,
while those who were apprehended at sea would be sent back. Perhaps
counter-intuitively, the news was celebrated in Cuba.
The so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy was enacted in 1995 during
President Clinton's first term and, like the equally controversial
"don't ask, don't tell" policy that allowed LGBQ people to serve in the
armed forces as long as they didn't talk about their sexuality, seemed
like a reasonably liberal policy at the time. But "wet foot, dry foot"
also encouraged extraordinarily dangerous attempts to flea Cuba for a
better life to the north, and for more than 20 years, the island's 11
million residents endured tales of friends and family perishing at sea.
Yoan Capote, who lives outside Havana, didn't anticipate Obama's
executive action -- which was planned for months but announced abruptly
to prevent any desperate, last-minute crossings -- but the
artist's latest work, on display now at the Jack Shainman Gallery in
Chelsea, couldn't have been better timed. The show, titled Palangre,
Spanish for a fishing line with hooks, is comprised of multiple works
that function simultaneously as paintings and sculptures, and
depict their subject -- the Caribbean -- as a place of terror and death.
Viewed straight-on and from a distance, they appear as traditional, if
stormy, seascapes; from up-close or the side, they become even more
ominous: The dark portions of the water aren't paint, but fishhooks,
aggressively protruding from the canvas as if to warn viewers to stand
back. In Cuba, Capote says, "the sea is a symbol for hope, but it's also
a symbol for a trap, for tragedy."
Capote, who was born in 1977, says the show represents the psychological
and emotional reality of his countrymen and women, for whom the sea is a
kind of "iron curtain" no less formidable than the Berlin Wall. "In
Cuba, we understand the sea as a kind of metal barrier," he says. "Also
the sand is like a trap, where a lot of people die trying to
escape." The fishhook is a trap too, he adds, and "can also be
understood as an allegory for difficulty and all the people who die
trying to escape from Cuba and get hooked, get caught."
The symbolism doesn't stop there: Capote fashions the fishhooks himself,
using a machine built in the 19th Century, and nails them to the
canvases with the help of locals he employs as his assistants. It's an
arduous, tedious process, and isolating. "It's symbolic of myself as an
artist," he says, "but also a condition of the whole of [Cuban] society."
Palangre also refuses the romantic Western view of Cuba as a bright and
colorful place, or the Caribbean as a placid body of water beneath a
benevolent sun. Capote says his intention is to depict the interiority
of the Cuban people: "These paintings are the interior sea of every
human being, the psychological seascape that every person in Cuba has,"
he says. Unlike the tourist who visits the island and sees a land of
pinks and blues, greens and yellows, Capote adds, the people who live
there, isolated from the world and beset with the country's long and
dramatic history, "don't see that light."
Source: One Cuban Artist Depicts The Sea As A Deadly 'Iron Curtain' -