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René Peña: the mysterious body

René Peña: the mysterious body

Sometimes we think that our home is boring. Other times we feel it provides a safe haven from which we should never move. Photographer René Peña (Havana, 1957) understands all that very well. He has used the drama implicit in those spaces in a series of his works about the inner Cuba that is not apparent in the tourist pamphlets. The homes captured by his lens show us a precarious yet fantastic reality, full of strange seductions. Peña’s photos are clean; they don’t rely on special effects to be pleasing; they clearly take the side of austerity and defend a single content.

From homes, he has moved on to the body. In his Memorias de la carne (Memories of the Flesh), the black body is an expression of a ritual that has been interrupted by the cruelty of history. The photos propose that we spy on the skin in very specific spots such as the feet, lips and hands. Provocation ends up being abstraction.

The photography of René Peña is closely associated with hasty reactions that originate in his mind as a result of his manner of reacting to objects and situations happening to him and that he is capable of turning into images. This process speaks volumes about his spontaneity and the fluidity of his intuition that penetrates the depths of each one of his pieces. Take his photos of the Cuban butcher shops: the meat hangs from very attractive hooks used in the ritual, which are then followed by his own body transformed into a slab of beef.

In Ritos (Rites, 1992), the body is handed over to the contradictory effect of beliefs. There is a careful use of gestures, parodies of their representative purposes that skirt around the meanings and enrich the visual aspect.

In his series called Man made Materials (1998-2001), Peña says he starts with a commercial clarification that he found in a pair of shoes that had a label saying they were manufactured from biodegradable materials. The images are acutely ironic as they take on the hypocrisy of the world.

René Peña has stated: “My main interest is not the physical aspect of society but in its soul; this has no face. It is loaded with beliefs, fears, sex, hatred, vices, greed, cunning, races, stereotypes, gold, representations, love, contradictions.” Even though the artist uses his body as a mediator he does not think of his work as autobiographical. Through his work he feels that he expresses the concerns and lives of others.
January 2014

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