Havana September 2019

It seems that no matter where I roam in the city, old or new Havana, the people of Cuba make art. Life here isn't easy and many take two jobs just to afford the essentials, yet somehow they make art, they print, they paint, they sculpt, they mosaic, they dance, they sing.

I arrive at the Cuban Art Building and a world of contemporary, cultural, and at times political art opens to me. It is sometimes difficult to interpret and understand the artists intentions as I read even less Spanish/Cuban than I speak, but mostly art transcends international language.

Across a traditional large, white cube, gallery I see a black rocket which appears to be orbiting the room, with no intention of heading star-ward. I wander over and find myself standing, not before a black spaceship, although the resemblance cannot be unintentional, but in front of a limbless torso. At over 2 meters in length it is a substantial wall hanging sculpture, that bears the artists name Osneldo and the year 1968 on a metal plate nestled inside one of its dismembered thighs. The gallery label translates as The Naked Corset.

The gallery label “hierro” does not mean this is some sort of astronaut hero, but that the work is made from a sheet of iron. What I had perceived at a distance as windows are in fact nipples, what I had read as rocket boosters, are truncated thighs, the space between revealing the sex as female. I later find the translation of the gallery information and whilst much of it is poorly translated by electronic means, the part that reads best describes “a female body of whose sex is sticking out some threatening nails.”

I am mesmerised by the contrasting yellow band, reminiscent of automobile trim, that cuts across the lower abdomen like my own hysterectomy scar, (it could also be a caesarean scar). It transpires the piece comes from a series named Corset and indeed, up close one can see the centre opened up and laced like foundation wear, which was not visible at a distance because the gaping hole is in shadow due to the lighting and the shadow the corset casts upon its innards.

The piece is the antithesis of the female nude I assume it portrays, the colour is not flesh-toned but black, the texture, not warm and yielding but hard and cold. I am amazed that something so removed from that which it portrays can evoke it so powerfully.

As I walk away, I turn back to look at the work one last time, maybe it was never a rocket, now it looks like a fish. Due to the complete lack of data and limited wi-fi in Cuba I am forced to suspend further research until I return home. Whereupon I discover other works by the artist that do indeed have an aquatic, and erotic, theme, so now I think of the piece as a giant deep-sea fish, languidly swimming the gallery walls as if in a dimly lit aquarium.


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