BELKIS AYON and JUAN CARLOS ALOM

by John O'Brien



Juan Carlos Alom, "Untitled,"
gelatin silver print (ed. 25),
16 x 20", 1997.



Juan Carlos Alom, "Untitled,"
gelatin silver print (ed. 25),
16 x 20", 1997.

(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.

Alom seems most interested in arousing the viewer, without letting that arousal coagulate into want. Not always convincing, it is nonetheless curiously compelling to follow as this work attempts to invest the viewer with the intense headiness of desire itself.

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' prints are made up of essentialized figures that float in an eerie, writhing landscape enacting the stories of the Abakua. Black and white are used as natural corollary to the collographic printing technique, but function in a symbolic domain as well. The principle feature of this artist's work is her depiction of the symbols and rites of the Abakuá. She creates a world of storytelling that is odd and beautiful. It is an intricate play of pat- tern and repetition in a very shallow pictorial space, a fusion of animal, plant and human into a hybrid glyph.

 

Belkis Ayon, "La Sentencia," colografia, 37 x 27", 1993.

 

Belkis Ayon, "Yo, te di el Poder," colografia, 37 x 27", 1993.