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Visual Arts

'Proteus Syndrome' or the 'Politically Incorrect Art' of Jesús Hdez-Güero

The Cuban artist, based in Madrid, talked to DIARIO DE CUBA about his projects, the San Isidro Movement, and what it is like to create in a democracy.

Cuban artist Jesús Hdez-Güero in his studio in Madrid.
Cuban artist Jesús Hdez-Güero in his studio in Madrid. Courtesy of the artist

With the work "Luis Manuel-Boitel" (2020) the visual artist Jesús Hdez-Güero, based in Madrid, joins the support of a wide swathe of the Cuban artistic community for Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who in the last six months has gone on two hunger strikes to demand freedom of creation and an end to the repression of dissenters.

The collage, part of the Proteus Syndrome series, with two versions forming a diptych, also evokes the Cuban poet Pedro Luis Boitel, a fundamental figure in the history of dissidence on the island, who died 53 days after declaring a hunger strike, on May 25, 1972.

In Proteus Syndrome the artist exploits the almost mimetic expressions of iconic figures before the camera. With them he creates hybrids through which he seeks to encourage questioning.

Jesús Hdez-Güero, whose general work is perceived as "politically incorrect", talked to DIARIO DE CUBA about this series he has been working on since 2015, the San Isidro Movement, and what it is like to create in a democracy.

For the artist, everything that the San Isidro Movement and 27N are doing in Cuba "is legitimate."

He stressed that "from different perspectives", different actors, "have come together in a protest about fundamental principles, such as the freedom of creation, association, and expression, among others, something that had not happened until now."

"All of this has its own merit, because it revitalizes the context, spotlighting the problem right there. It can incite and sensitize citizens to voice demands in the streets, which would be the only way that a real, tangible change can occur," he said.

He regrets that "in a society like Cuba’s, where there are no citizen rights like there are in a democracy, or constitutional guarantees, all those demands just vanish."

What happens in Cuba with politically charged art is very different from what this artist has experienced in Spain. This was demonstrated by his recent "Pablo-Díaz Ayuso public intervention", part of Proteus Syndrome and in which he focuses on "two controversial and opposite public figures": Isabel Díaz Ayuso (of the Popular Party) and Pablo Iglesias (the former leader of Podemos).

"Art can put the concept of democracy and any political system in crisis. When you realize that, in this type of open society, everyone has the right to express their opinions, beliefs, irritations, you feel empowered, and with an almost infinite field of action," he explained.

"Despite being an immigrant, there are spaces where you can make your thoughts visible. This project was a way of doing so publicly, in a turbulent political context during the campaign for the presidency of the Community of Madrid," he added.

"Doing the 'Pablo-Díaz Ayuso' work, and taking it into the public space, with location and reception codes different from those of an artistic space, was a very intense experience," he said.

In Spain there are professionals with companies dedicated to pasting posters, and the Cuban artist did not hesitate to take advantage of this service.

"Sergio Larrañaga, with 20 years of experience, worked with me, and before they were put up, he explained to me that there was a 'sign war' in Madrid, as the 'permitted' spaces were constantly being invaded by new pasters with different posters."

"I mean, the poster you put up could last two days, or 20 minutes. That dynamic of struggle, not to create a space to express yourself, but so that is lasts over time, is what changes in a democracy."

A defiant work

Hdez-Güero described his artistic journey to Madrid, where he lives with his family and has his studio, as "exciting, long, intense and challenging".

"I prefer using numbers to tell you: 4 years at the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts; 5 years at the Higher Institute of Art (ISA); two years at the Tania Bruguera Behavior Art School; seven years in Venezuela with my art, my dear wife and beautiful daughter; one year in Colombia as a professor at the Departmental Institute of Fine Arts in Cali, and three years in Spain, one of them with a scholarship at the Madrid Institute of Photography and Cinema (EFTI)."

As an artist harboring political concerns, in Cuba he suffered from lack; above all a lack of freedom, "essential for the artistic process and society in general."

He recalled his personal exhibition Recorte de la realidad informativa (News Clip), at the Casa de Las Américas (2007). The Minister of Culture at the time, Abel Prieto, wanted him to omit from the exhibition the work "Sobre un vacío periodístico" (On a journalistic void), a video featuring a report on the censorship of the "gray five-year period".

"From that moment, when I refused to withdraw the video, I began to notice that everything changed with regard to the reception of my work at cultural institutions."

In 2019 Hdez-Güero presented his final thesis at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA):  book entitled La Tercera Pata (The Third Leg), with texts by censored journalists and writers like Rafael Alcides, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, and Rafael Rojas, among others.

The artist explained that a month before the dean summoned him along with his advisor, the critic and curator Mailyn Machado. The project had not been approved. He had only two options: submit a compendium of his artistic production as a student, or pass a state test.

"I chose the first option, as was logical, the book forming part of it. When showing it, as the last project during that period, the lights went out; a miraculous or malicious coincidence, and my presentation was over," he recalled.

Hdez-Güero also remembers "the difficulties suffered at the Visual Arts Development Center" with his photographic series Lecturas difíciles (Difficult Readings ) (2009-2010), about independent Cuban publications containing analyses critical of the Government, which were circulated in a clandestine manner at that time.

"It would be interesting to revisit that project and resume a field study today. It was an intense period that helped me enhance my creative process when there was no collective sensibility of open criticism and clear demands in the artistic community against cultural institutions and the Government like there is now," he reflected.

Hdez-Güero is currently working on a Cuban version of the piece "Época incorrecta para escritores célebres", (Wrong Era for Famous Writers), which he produced in Poland in 2013, but with Cuban writers and journalists censored and exiled from 1959 to the present.

In June-July of this year he will take a selection from Proteus Syndrome to a group exhibition at the Casa Hoffmann Gallery in Bogotá, which will address the collage as a tool and a socio-political approach.

In October he will compete for the Arte Laguna Prize, at the Arsenal Art Exhibition in Venice, with his installation "Tener la culpa" (Being to Blame) (2014).

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