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At times he transforms reality by using a blend of good sense and daring. His pieces expand to invade spaces while he inserts beauty and simplicity. My first impression as he showed me his work at his Vedado studio was that I was in the presence of a unique thinker who works through images. The essential and all-embracing ability of experimenting with creation has taken him to the most important centers for world art such as Liverpool, Venice and St. Petersburg.
Doce soledades (2007) is an interesting essay about individual destiny, contrasting privacy with public dynamics. The viewer witnesses the personal aspects of twelve persons who are living as if they were in a very private room without communicating with each other. Among some of the most significant points in this depiction are the levels of coincidence that start to occur among the protagonists in terms of gestures, positions and the activities they are engaged in. It is once again made clear that whatever is human inevitably tends to obey to some sort of monotony that inspires the desire for making a break. We are always trying to leap above this tediousness that dogs us and in the measure that those leaps are notable, our possibility to become creative human beings increases.
Although photography is the principal medium of his series Objeto de deseo (2001), it is based on directly using human bodies that are manipulated and intervened by Diaz’s reflexive obsessions, retractable beings that are placed between the light’s siege and the earth’s gravity. They are positioned to lie in wait, distinguished by hope which gives them the wherewithal to persevere.
In Objeto de deseo, the nudes belong to a different orbit; using a generous erotic touch, the viewer is provoked in order to subsequently obstruct the paths that might lead to any possible result generated by arousal and desire. In this visual narration, from Analía (2001) to Paradiso (2013- 2014), moving through Simiente (2009), there is a highly visible trait that deals with the lack of freedom bodies have to express the flood of perversions they store up inside.
The photographs in Paradiso come from a performance that lasted about one hour; it was most widely shown during the opening of the controversial exhibition called Sex in the City at the La Acacia Gallery in Havana in 2013. Here, two bodies are struggling under the shrink-wrap, fighting for their right to pleasure. Logically, within the friction that is generated and growing in crescendo, emotions are being created that serve to “fan the flames” and provoke the viewers to an extreme degree.
Among the more private works by Humberto Diaz, I was especially impressed by Confesiones (2013). This is an enigmatic diary that can be deciphered by each person according to their view of language and life. We see a mass of dried leaves on which the artist has coded symbols and moods, without intellectualizing and with the same rawness that the mind produces and ejects so that they can be received by these already dispersed elements that at one time formed part of the body of a tree.
Let us refer now to what we see and what is hidden: in both cases the mind has to resolve several equations if it wants to enjoy reality and not become its slave. An artist like Humberto is well aware of this duality and so, at just the right time, he knows how to put it to use as the perfect trigger for his work. His Historia de amor (2009) obeys those principles. In the gallery, all that the viewer sees is a black dot. But the viewer outside of the gallery has much more explicit information: the structure of a hammer that lacks its head thereby transforming a utilitarian object into something that belongs in the domain of poetry.
In his more ambitious pieces, beauty and the invasive force of what is being depicted captivate the viewers into a circle in which the symbol is the element used to accelerate emotion. In truth, it is the very personality of these objects in their transformations that submerges all personal information and makes it flow in a substratum that cannot be seen but is able to be perceived with well-trained sensibility. With these hybrids, the artist intervenes at will in public places; they have the scope and capacity to repeat as many times as the artist deems necessary and they move progressively, changing scenarios.
Tsunami (2009) is a work that clearly demonstrates my comment above. Based on elements that are as seductive and basically useful as roof tiles, Diaz represents the devastation wreaked by a natural phenomenon, in this case coolly controlled by the exercise of appropriation. That dynamic of disaster is activated at the mere mention of the word “tsunami” and now it is transformed into a kind of oxygen to bring life to something going from place to place, changing only in some of it esthetic details such as color or the shapes of the roof tiles, to keep in tune with the context that is intervened.
His recent work is becoming increasingly subtle and so the artist has increased the level of risk and the danger of not being fully understood. At the same time, the work is extremely sensual, bordering on eroticism where people are replaced by objects. Strange orgies, as in That Night I Don’t Remember (2013), confirm that Humberto Diaz’ spirit doesn’t believe in any pre-established limits.
May 2015 This article formed part of the May 2015 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
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