Illustrious Habana

The Mona Lisa crowned with a dome from the Isa (Higher Institute of Art) appears on the cover of the catalog of the Eden Habana exhibition. However, it is the Giraldilla disarmed to the extreme of nudity that lends its title to that exhibition by Reynerio Tamayo, inaugurated on November 14 at the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, on the occasion of the 500th birthday of the Cuban capital.

It is possible that some have only noticed the gag or visual joke of that phallic version of Eve, painted without Adam, in the announced paradise of a “wonder city”. Its author has plenty of credit in the illustrated use of humor in Cuban visual arts. He knows that the statuette in which she was inspired is the Giralda of Seville, Spain.

Now, that the Giraldilla has also become an emblem of the city - as much or more than the Fuente de la India, the "native" Noble Havana - carries a certain irony or contradiction. It is about the Spanish Isabel de Bobadilla, acting governor in colonial Cuba and involved in an exhibition where she attracted many to the illustrious Habaneros series (2019).

It is an “all-star” ensemble that brings together musicians and athletes (black and white), writers, dancers, researchers, a visual artist and a filmmaker. Twenty-three living or dead personalities who on the opening day occupied two exhibition rooms in San Ignacio no. 22, esq. a Empedrado, Old Havana. Of course, not all the famous Havanans were there. And were all those who were?

By representing them, the artist almost always achieved his own synthesis of graphic design. Nothing alien to whom he has conceived posters for cinema, exhibitions and events; as well as covers for musical discs. The maxim of more with less contrasted with the baroque principle of certain paintings hanging in other rooms, where compositions more loaded with scenes and / or characters could be seen.

Tamayo resorted to many variants of the portrait, even when it was of the personal type. He respected the angle or frame of the original photograph, appropriate because it suited his expressive concerns and because it was not his own. He endowed it, in each case, with new environments and meanings, using mixed media and canvas as support.

He used the frontal view with a simple background —in the portraits of Eusebio Leal, José Lezama and Joseíto Fernández— or more complex, in those of Tomás Gutiérrez-Alea (Titón), José Raúl Capablanca and Leonardo Padura. But he also placed Chucho Valdés in the background, captive of his musical instrument; Juan Formell fused with the city that fed and popularized his sonic chronicles; to Omara Portuondo, mixed with musical notes.

He chose the three-quarter position for Elena Burke and Luciano (Chano) Pozo. The one in profile, for Dulce María Loynaz; of bust, for Leal and Titón; on an American plane, for Leo Brouwer, Leonardo Padura, Chano and Capablanca; full-length, for Adolfo Luque, Fernando Ortiz and Emilio Roig. In rectangular formats of just 70 x 50 cm, he managed to dimension the artistic and human scale of all the famous figures.

He combined photography and personal caricature in the images of Brouwer, Ignacio Villa (Bola de Nieve), Dulce María and Fernando Ortiz. He transfigured a caricatural self-portrait of José Martí into a suggestive key-shaped head over Havana. He made Antonia Eiriz evolve? from the smile to the scream in a sequence of nine "faces". It was a nod to popular kitsch photography; but also to the comic and the history of art, honored in other paintings. And in the only caricature - and portrait - of a couple, he united Havana with his first historian through a Giraldilla that kisses a blushing Roig.


At times, Tamayo dispensed with the face. Carlos Acosta is the black silhouette of a dancer who describes the island of Cuba in a huge jump. The names confirm identities and are integrated into the composition, when they appear. Sometimes incompletely. Alicia, par excellence, identifies ballet shoes linked with a swan? in flight. A capital K, initial for Kid and knock out, exhibits boxing gloves and two-tone shoes alluding to Kid Chocolate, distinguished in and out of the ring.

They endorse that Reynerio was not only entrusted to the physical appearance of illustrious Havanans. He also resorted to certain attributes of his works, styles of work, projections or psychological behaviors. He confirmed the importance of his hands, fused with other working instruments: Brouwer's guitar, Chucho and Bola's pianos, Formell's bass, Dulce María's pencil, Luque's bat ... and Padura's: Quixote that modernized his adarga and wrote the text of the catalog.

For Tamayo it was essential what the Havanans of him carried: Leal, a map where the heart occupied the site of the Havana port; Joseíto, music scores in his yarey hat. What they did was also substantial: Lezama, the gourmet and far-fetched, chose letters with pencils and not with chopsticks. Elena, the Feeling Lady, sang with her heart out and on fire. Ortiz danced happily like an Abakuá devil. And Chano managed to make an Afro-Cuban figure emerge from his drum.

Reynerio associated Capablanca with the king of chess, the lunatic José María López Lledín (Knight of Paris) with a V. van Gogh night. Curiously, the hairy character was another Spaniard who became a symbol of an illustrious city, another illustrious Havana by adoption, a capital from the capital like Giraldilla and Reynerio himself. Tamayo was born in the eastern part of the country (Niquero, 1968) and graduated from Isa, to which he dedicated one of the exhibition rooms that can be visited until January 11.

By Israel Castellanos León, December 2019

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