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Mauricio Abad at the 12th Havana Biennial

Mauricio Abad at the 12th Havana Biennial

Abad was one of the leading artists at the inauguration of the Biennial on the morning of May 22, 2015 at the unique setting provided by the picturesque town of Casablanca, on the other side of Havana Bay, whose hill is the location of the gigantic statue of Christ.

He shared center stage with other talented young Cuban artists, such as Elizabeth Cerviño and José Eduardo Yaque, and prestigious figures from other countries such as Ewan Atkinson, Marte Johnslien and Daniel Buren who presented his performance at the town’s railroad station. The electric train, a veritable relic and one of the oldest in the Americas, is still working.

Mauricio Abad’s artwork on this occasion is very tied in to his principal obsessions, but I believe that he has developed them with more complexity, especially in terms of their social impact and the considerable number of people involved. The installation is called Gamers O.K. A LED screen displays the phrase “Muertos por tiros de balas” (Killed by gun shots) while these dead are being tallied on the screen. These casualties come from video games being executed on an underground network connecting fifteen thousand users who are being monitored by that same LED screen.

The main contribution of Gamers O.K. is the artist’s capacity for commenting from a metaphorical position on some of those hidden processes occurring today in Cuba. As yet, these processes are not perceptible to most of the population. It is interesting to see how the visual impact that the piece generates mutates into a solid reflection.

The artist’s participation in the Biennial not only extends to other locations but to different languages and expressive means. This demonstrates that he is sensitive enough and well-versed in communicating through a variety of channels. At another show he exhibits Para lucir hay que sufrir, which was put together at Carlos Bustamante’s studio at Calle 1ra No. 15603 entre 156 y 156A in Reparto Náutico. He shares the exhibition with Bustamante as well as with Lilian Broche, Yaima Pardo and Denis Izquierdo.

One of Abad’s pieces in Para lucir hay que sufrir [To Look Good You Have to Suffer] is “Al lado este del azul” [On the east side of the Blue].The work is composed of 150 photographs placed in a black box. They were taken on the street that separates the Los Angeles International Airport and the coast. Close to the airport is a Butterfly Habitat Preserve, opened in 1973, specifically to protect the federally designated endangered species of El Segundo Blue Butterfly. The preserve is well closed-off but it is odd that nobody seems to have ever spotted the butterflies. This all goes to prove that the myth is often stronger than reality.

The other Abad piece that caught my interest was Mi Nube [My Cloud], composed of a series of portraits painted from photos he received from some of the 15,000 users involved in Gamers O.K., the work he has presented in Casablanca. A firm connection is established between two artworks and the secret becomes public, while the subjective becomes objective.

In a third show, Abad participates with Arsenal located in a four-story building which houses Sandra Pérez Lozano’s studio in the heart of Centro Habana at Calle Cárdenas # 51, esquina Corrales. Other important Cuban artists also take part: Javier Castro, Susana Pilar, Michel Pou, Álvaro José Brunet, Sandra Ramos, Adonis Flores and Reinier Leyva Novo. The work is called Rapunzel. It is a rag doll, four meters tall, with seven-meter long braids woven in seven different colors and that are thrown over the balcony to the ground outside. Abad and the other artists showing here have focused on the central theme of violence. Mauricio says that his work also talks about relationships between artists at the Biennial.

This Rapunzel is transformed into a kind of African deity (Oya) who bears the load of the consequences of violence. She is a giant replica of the dolls that are commonly used in Santeria rituals.
Mauricio Abad’s work has clearly enriched the Biennial this year and there is no doubt that he invites us to reflect on our ties with the important element of memory and how it transfers to individuals and groups.

June 2015 This article formed part of the june 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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