By Alanna Lockward
Lost in the infinite currents of misreading about island culture, the artist that chooses to become part of the global mainstream is bound to discover sooner or later that there is no visa for “universality”. No matter how sophisticated his/her work is, the highest qualification his/her art is going to receive is: exotic.
In the particular case of the Dominican Republic contemporary art production “the marginality within the marginality” has finally been broken in the last couple of years. This phenomenon refers to the perennial exclusion of local artists from international exhibitions that were supposed to showcase the situation of the arts of the region within the region (the Caribbean) and the region itself (Latin America).
Insight into Otherness is an exercise on introducing the fact that: “The art of the Dominican Republic has reached a level of sophistication that makes its distribution in the rest of the world an agenda that can´t be postponed any longer” (1). The concept of the Other is that of an alien artistic entity, professionally disabled by its place of birth to accomplish recognition on his/her own right by “universal” standards.
By presenting the differences between the works of Raúl Recio, Marcos Lora Read and Mónica Ferreras, our statement is that the Other is not anymore the familiar stranger mainstreamers could easily tag before. There are no formulas to baptize the creative production of these artists.
Raúl Recio, de la serie Las Piscinas del Placer, courtesy of Lyle O. Reitzel Gallery
Raúl Recio creates canvases that are aggressively defiant of local cultural values. Therefore, his images will be more accepted in a New York museum than in the living room of an average educated person in the Dominican Republic. Apart from becoming a living element of the anecdotic strength of his canvases, he is always on the process of making a great story. Story-telling is a permanent component of Recio´s work. His re-enactments of fantastic scenes (true or not, it doesn´t really matter), amazing encounters and violent defeats take us by assault in the middle of a deceivingly happy picture.
The reason he gives for his endless capacity to find and make trouble (in real life and in his paintings) is very simple: in the theater of an artist life, canvases paint themselves. The artist is there only to take for him the residuum: a name, for example. In other words, he takes no moral responsibility for whatever the results are. This detached attitude for the form and the final product is what gives his work a courageous and powerful edge. It also makes his mother worry all the time. A feminine figure that permeates his feelings towards sexuality, companionship and the motherhood of a mythical universe is always present, even when it is not visually obvious. As one of his favorite authors, Cioran, says: “The only valid quality of an obsession is to exist”.
Therefore, his mother-and-child link with reality is a prolific starting point that has enabled him to make several star appearances in the international arena since his precocious accumulation of prizes and awards, always supported by “ENE” (“N”, the first letter of his mother´s name). Apart from being exposed from early childhood to the experts´ opinions, he has also enjoyed a unique recognition from the local art scene. Unique, because the usual priorities for gallery circuits (until very recently) were to expose digestible and pleasant art that would sell safely. Recio´s integrity in portraying the worst of our idiosyncrasy deserves as much credit as his collectors´ visionary taste.
Marcos Lora Read, Cinco Carrozas para la Historia, 1991, courtesy of Ludwig Forum Aachen
To help us understand that in order to recover one´s Otherness territory it is absolutely necessary to depart from it, Marcos Lora-Read´s ability to pursue historical reconstructions has been very productive in Europe. His new “Dominicanness” is a version of ourselves to which very few locals have access too.
Conceptual art is not popular at all here, and Lora-Read´s pieces need as much financial as spiritual support. The Cayuco is the piece de resisténce of this artist´s presence in this show. This canoe is an ancestral heritage that the exterminated taino or arawak Indians gave to the new slaves that arrived from Africa. Its unfinished surface is a reminder of the violently interrupted dialogue between these two oppressed cultures. As critic Antonia María Cerdá recalls: “When Marcos still lived in Santo Domingo, he moved to the eastern part of the island where still exists a handful of experts on the construction of this ancestral boat and he learned this technique from them […] these Cayucos have lost their hypothetical functionality [because] Lora Read is learning to depart from physical restraints and plays with the concept, in the same way a traveler learns to leave what is superficial behind and to preserve only what is fundamental” (2).
Mónica Ferreras, Obelisco de Casabe, 1996, courtesy of ArtLabour Archives
Mónica Ferreras´minimalist installation, the Kassava Obelisk, is another homage to the massively exterminated tainos. Dominican mainstream history and culture does not give them any participating credits in the definition of what we are today. Ferreras´ insight is particular innovative in the local installation scene for two reasons. The first one is the transgression of a symbol like the Obelisk that represents the renaming of the city of Santo Domingo with the surname of dictator Trujillo in the early 50´s. Since then, we associate this phallic monument with three decades of terror and political oppression. “El Obelicsco” is emblematic of “El Malecón” –the avenue that borders the Caribbean Sea—where island life is shared by different social groups. In the association of a common place of Dominican history with the colonial accounts of early taino settlers – of whom the only shared memory is oblivion—the second conceptual accomplishment by Ferreras is located. This silent mourning totem is simple in resolution but its strange beauty received many praises at the XX Bienal Nacional de Artes Visuales, in 1996. But also, for the first time, the “casabe” as a medium has been introduced in the local scene: “We would like to mention a newcomer to the world of installations, Mónica Ferreras, who built an obelisk made of cassava bread, a conceptual jewel, provisional, almost necessarily bio-degradable” (3).
The exceptional combination of “reality-bites” and the savoir-faire of a knowledgeable manipulation of the contemporary codes of the visual arts is the playground shared by Ferreras with the rest of her peers in this show. We welcome this up and coming artist in this expedition that is here to prove that it has become possible to send smoke signs through the Internet.
1. Elizabeth Ferrer. Interview with Alanna Lockward. Ventana. Suplemento Cultural del Listín Diario. Junio 30, 1996.
2. Antonia María Cerdá. Art Nexus Spanish edition. July-September 1997.
3. Marianne de Tolentino. Ventana. Suplemento Cultural del Listín Diario. May 31, 1996.
Insight into Otherness was presented at the Art Center South Florida from November 8 through December 14th, 1997. It was curated by Alanna Lockward and coordinated by Betty Jansen.