by John O'Brien
|(Ayon at Couturier Gallery, Alom at Iturralde Gallery, West Hollywood) The
increased ease of international travel and the pursuit of global tourism
has had repercussions that extend far into the sphere of contemporary visual
culture. In galleries and museums it is no longer surprising to find information
about and artifacts from places that were once simply not heard from. Sometimes
not being heard from is a condition imposed by geographic distance; and
at other times, it is a condition imposed by geo-political differences.
Certainly that is the case with Cuba, a country whose vicinity is near but
whose cultural and artistic identity has been far removed from American
awareness as a result of the decades of the Cold War. Exhibitions by two
Cuban artists in galleries just down the same block from one another provide
a view, albeit partial, of what is going on in a land we have directly seen
or heard little from for over thirty years now.|
Juan Carlos Alom's photographic works have an apparent debt to Euro-centric art history and sensibility. This is because the erotically charged combinations of distended nudes, stone wings, skulls, dried plants and oddly reversed symmetrical images printed side by side that he contrives, conjure up the psycho-sexual archaeology of early Surrealism. That these fragmentary tales all add up to a very non-European story is the difference that he plumbs.
Drawing on imagery and sources that range from Christianity to santeria,
Alom's photographic space becomes very ritualized and fetishized. Allowing
your imagination to be pushed into the willful instability of significance
that lies between his assembled items is like participating in an overly
sumptuous feast; it is both attractive and revolting at the same time. At
times he prints with heavily saturated colors and then offsets the visual
glut by printing others in cool gray, scratched images.
The large, black and white collograph prints which make up Belkis Ayon's
Restlessness series are part of a narrative cycle that revolves around the
myth and history of a secret society called the Abakua. Founded in the early
1800's, this all male society functioned as an underground resistance movement
to the Spanish rule. Eschewing females to the point that interlopers of
the opposite sex were put to death, the Abakuá are an amalgamation
of spiritual sources brought to the island from Africa.
Belkis Ayon, "La Sentencia," colografia, 37 x 27", 1993.
Belkis Ayon, "Yo, te di el Poder," colografia, 37 x 27", 1993.