Camejo's Habanas

Possible Habanas, by Luis Enrique Camejo (Pinar del Río, 1971), is one of the many exhibitions devoted to the capital of all Cubans for its half a millennium of existence. However, the one inaugurated on June 28 at the gallery El Reino de este mundo, of the José Martí National Library of Cuba, is not the first or the only one dedicated to him by that artist who graduated from the Higher Institute of Art (Isa).

In fact, in the set of twelve paintings, some large canvases that date from 2009 stand out and show an ancient attraction for the City with its streets, buildings -vg, the iconic Faculty of Visual Arts of Isa- and also for its people, occupations, movements. A dynamic frozen by the original photographic moment and thawed by the sweep of brushes and pigments on canvas and cardboard.


“The Habanas de Camejo are instants trapped in the canvas that, not because they are fugitives, are perishable, because they are the expression of a particular vision that is not always the same, although it starts from the same subject […] Camejo's work is an urban taxidermy sometimes with the irony that in his paintings there are Habanas more alive than in reality itself ”—wrote his brother Iván in the exhibition's brochure.

The very title of the exhibition, lacking a specific article, also suggests the endless number of individual and collective apprehensions that such a city has had so revisited in paintings, drawings, engravings, ceramics, designs, sculptures, photographs, songs, novels, stories , poems, essays, fiction films, documentaries, video clips and plays, where he has been the protagonist or stage.

The artist paid tribute to Havana and, in some way, to those who have shaped it. The diptych Interior del Cerro (2009) implies a certain homage to the avant-garde painter René Portocarrero, but also to Camejo's own father and mother, represented individually in each half of the work. It is an intimate painting, a rare bird in the gallery of urban landscapes that Luis Enrique has dedicated to the adoptive city, where he creates and resides.

In a previous paragraph space and literature were mentioned. And one might wonder if, perhaps, another gallery more appropriate from the symbolic point of view could be found for the Camejo exhibition than the one named after a novel by Alejo Carpentier. He is an author who, regardless of whether he was born in Lausanne or Havana, experienced it as a chosen one and dedicated memorable pages to him in the essay The city of columns, to cite one of his best-known works on “the city without style ”.

Was such a conjunction a "concurrent chance", as José Lezama Lima called the coincidence? It could also have been the fact that the exhibition included a view of Trocadero street, where this illustrious Habanero resided for many years. In number 162 (low) he wrote the essays on Havana Coordinates, among other possible approaches of that "immobile traveler" to a city still dominated by the "almendrones" and from which he rarely detached himself.

Camejo's Habanas have the subjectivity and evanescence of impressionism, the urgent gesture of acrylic to avoid drying out before its time and the wet stamp of watercolor, ideal in cloudy and rainy hours. They seem nostalgic, even if they are contemporary. It does not matter that they reflect the coastline frequented by Havanans and / or residents of the capital, Cubans and foreigners, idlers and workers, common people or in fashion sung by Cienfuegos Polito Ibáñez.

Both in gray and ocher, the Malecón and its marine or urban surroundings generate sensations far removed from that smiling image that the second discoverer of Cuba –Alejandro de Humboldt– appreciated at the beginning of the 19th century and Carpentier mentioned in the aforementioned essay. Nor do they exhibit the night lamp that, according to Alejo, dazzled those who arrived by boat.

The Habanas that Camejo showed are daytime or evening, and rather monochrome. For this reason and because of the compositional rule of thirds, the golden glow that crowns the Capitol stands out, seen from afar, as part of an urban landscape. It is an architectural landmark where peasants and foreign tourists usually take a photo, selfie or not. And it appears on the cover of the folding designed for this exhibition that can be visited until the end of the year.

By Israel Castellanos León, December 2019

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