Cirenaica Moreira: The Eagerness to Sustain an Idea, a Morning, a Vice

What do you want to kill in you that has not already died.
Perhaps an idea, a morning, a vice can sustain you
in this cliff of ideas, of mornings, of vices.
Ángel Escobar, “To Continue”

As one who enters an unknown land, looking for signs, also a sort of route, I decided to apply more than a severe zoom to the photo Inteligencia artificial by Cirenaica Moreira (Havana, 1969). The work is part of the series in progress El nuevo orden (2020-2023). There is in the photograph a strange symbiosis: woman-tree / woman-deer; it tends to escape from the plane of the real, with which it asks or demands from us to establish a pact.

If eroticism is one of the characteristic vectors in Cyrenaica’s work, Inteligencia artificial goes a little further when it comes to enunciating it. The one who projects her eros is no longer the everyday, perceptible woman, or any other woman whose uniqueness makes her seem different. It is an unnatural being, a radical crossing of feminine traits, unabashedly showing herself, being, challenging, questioning.

Almost indigo stained skin, profuse eyebrows; the covered face and bust contrast with the provocative nudity of the rest of the body. This being refers us to an homage. Or a subjugation, according to the artist’s own words, in a dialogue that seems destined to the personal archive, to the notes accumulated for future texts?[1] Yves Klein, the Klein Blue. Yes, it is the debt and the dialogue of Cyrenaica regarding an artist, a color (the International Klein Blue or blue style), a gesture (the performance), the beauty, and even the paradox: the action that progresses until it stops on a picture, but whose result continues to be perceived as movement.

As a first approximation or appearance, the blue in Cyrenaica, or the surrender to the magnificent blue, is encrypted in the boxes of the series in progress Páginas sin nombre (2019), exhibited within the group show 10 de 500. La cuadratura del círculo, and curated by Concha Fontenla at Factoría Habana. “It’s a kind of homage that comes from the boxes, which is why they were blue […], and from the legs I was going to make […], the legs of Mariana [Alom Moreira]. They were going to be hanging, […] it was going to be called ‘El salto.’”. El salto is also a piece by Yves Klein. That’s why I started to insert it discreetly into my work.”[2]

The boxes are, also, her leap in the dark. A mortal or vital leap. Yes, starting from everyday life, from the private, the domestic environment, from the mother-daughter relationship, and launching herself into a space where “that sort of anguish for national, historical and personal identity, which is unknown or which one tries to recompose over and over again, must converge.”[3]

‘Artificial Intelligence’, Cyrenaica Moreira, from the series ‘The New Order’, work in progress, 2020.

Is this a variant of Klein’s anthropometry, and are the Cyrenaica models a version of Klein’s “living brush,” those women smeared by Yves whose bodies leave a blue trace on the canvas? Is it another gestural writing, the calligraphy with which Moreira gives order and meaning to a story?

For the series of the boxes the model has not been painted blue. But on the blue background of the intervened photographs will remain “the imprint” of a very young woman, free of bad habits and in the clear process of learning, who, for better or worse, will be wrapped with the traditions transferred from generation to generation, the anguish of her own mother, paradigms, desires. There is in the final result a kind of very personal color, a “pain style,” a luminous Cyrenaica pain that persists, enhanced, in El nuevo orden.

If in the boxes nothing stands between the gaze of the model and her surroundings, in El nuevo orden the opposite is often the case. Between the face and everything that surrounds the woman-tree / woman-deer appears a contraption that has become a mask. Her face and bust are covered, but the free hand is still, covered with a glove, over the naked and stained skin.

It is what remains of the body, the wild, untamed, animalistic zone; despite the hairstyle, the head shows us another defiant side of nature. These are the parts that cannot be tamed. If something is tolerated, it is negotiated through a ruse, as is the brief woven piece that covers the bust.

Does the above constitute a sort of castling or practice so that ideas, like branches or antlers, protect, challenge, alert, wound? To roam free wherever a woman must do battle, whatever the context, even where body fluids and flows of pleasure are exchanged at risk?

Although she does not even question us with her eyes, she has asked us more than one question. There seems to be no other reading than the risk of contagion with something uncommon in her environment. But we should not take this for granted.

A strange reality taking place in the second decade of the new millennium. Atrocious, almost unreal. As if we were all living in a state of altered consciousness.

With each zoom to the photo, I wanted to understand the meaning of that look. In a distant point she seems to be seeing, displaced, the meaning of her life. Does the photo in question and the series in progress constitute a sort of testimony?

I know that look. I have seen it repeated in many faces. Let’s say then: a look that can be one and at the same time many. A single face, but at the same time a plural face.

El nuevo orden is the relief of the artist after the continuous suffering and the arduous survival between the beginning of 2020 and the end of 2021, the most terrible time of the pandemic, together with the illusion of normality in a year no less atrocious for Cuba and the world: 2022. Brutal shock: death hanging over all of us, protocols for the control of Covid-19 applied without regard to surveillance and punishment, disruption of the flow of supply chains, inflation, shrinking economies, wars, migratory waves, populisms that only manage to fuel the chaos even more, domestic violence, feminicides, too much loneliness, stress, depression…

‘They are changing the order of events and the meaning of liturgy’, Cyrenaica Moreira, from ‘The New Order’ series, work in progress, 2020.

The frenzy of this era, as well as its consequence, when translated into the series El nuevo orden, its diabolical kinetic energy diminishes. The speed of the events reaches the minimum possible value, then everything happens inside the subject. Stopped action? it is pure acceleration in the pause, the head boiling.

As in Klein’s anthropometries, Cyrenaica’s performance manipulates movement and energy. The static in El nuevo orden contains a hidden chaos, that is “its jump.” They are, undoubtedly, internal battles, a struggle between the subject and the context where escape, whatever it may be, seems the only way to break the statism.

“When and with what does this action, stopped on the plane of reality, break? With the escape, which is in the other pieces: El éxodoEl adiós…”[4] Appealing to the metaphor, she reveals “that still time that Cuba has suffered for decades”:[5] an eternal present with the face of the past not only because of the constant evocation of pro-independence heroic acts, the necrophilia associated with the heroes, and a prosperity that is never reached because it is always located in the future. Yes, manipulated movement and energy.

The individual portrayed, a strangely political animal, passes the time in the contemplation of events while at the same time being part of them. This is a constant in Cirenaica’s work, as noted by art critic Mabel Llevat: “It is an act that seems to freeze and condemn itself to the impossibility of its continuation and termination, like gestures and emotional actions captured in a stroke of gestural painting.”[6] But unlike the previous series, in El nuevo orden the altered color becomes the turning point.

‘The Situation of the Working Class in England’, Cyrenaica Moreira, from the series ‘The New Order’, work in progress, 2020.

It is worth noting that the artist once again uses her own body. Hidden under a mask or successive masks to which she appeals (the chinstrap, the branch with a bird, the nest where a bird rests, the bundle of dry branches, the huge recycled plastic bottle), the model’s face suddenly loses part of its features and its usefulness, or its purpose, before the gaze of the other: there is something that is not said or cannot be expressed, that is not seen or cannot be shown, that is not heard or we are not allowed to listen. In short: what we are dramatically and inevitably ceasing to be, the annulment of the subject, or the flight into internal exile or exile.

Being herself, Cyrenaica ceases to be: “in me, I am portraying us all, like that great chaos we are all inhabiting.”[7] To do so, she makes use of her notions of theater: scene and stage, monologue, costumes and lighting, a dramaturgy within which there is a collective device of enunciation, plus an undercurrent of meaning. With all of the above, it is impossible not to question the context in which she interacts.

Therefore, it is not colored filters that are placed before the images of El nuevo orden, but the altered reality. Reality, or what is real, changes based on the reading or interpretation protocols of the portrayed subject, who is one, but at the same time many. Then, the intense or fainter color that takes over the scene is nothing more than the translation of what is happening: the univocal and at the same time plural real.

I feel blue… seems to tell us in El adiós the woman who has been portrayed while walking. Blue again, Klein again. The blue reigning in the background, and the indigo as a slight patina where the skin shows.

This departing woman is looked at almost from the opposite side. She has moved away from something and someone and is progressively approaching, aware of it, someone, something. Gloved hands, the mask like a gag-mask again, the legs half covered by stockings that have not been pulled up or have been pulled down. “That fragment of exposed skin is very important in a sense that evokes a raping. […] That skin is exposed because I wear the stockings […] out of place, that may have been removed by force.”[8]

The pink contrasts with the blue. More than an opposition of colors, it makes us notice the movement with respect to the pause. It speaks to us of a transit where transgressions, perversions, violence, cohabit under an apparent peacefulness.

Klein Blue, which has also found its domain in fashion, is in the garment worn by the model. It covers, constrains, embellishes, triggers eros, exerts a dominance, a tyranny. Is it a variant of the anthropometry of an external body on the model, and of the model on the background?

‘The Farewell’, Cyrenaica Moreira, from the series ‘The New Order’, work in progress, 2020.

Within the reigning indigo is the gaze of the model delving into a distant point that could well be that other subject or place to which she should never return. Is blue the temperature escaping from the body, from the scene, and from memory? What we could predict after reading her gaze would almost be completed with the slight trace of the lips revealed by the mask, the mask will be another constant in the series.

Migration, the urge to flee within or outside national borders returns to the work of Cyrenaica. Whether from the supposed epistle, from the evocation of the absent body, or from the enunciation of a critical discourse, the artist places us in front of the migrant and his need, the transit, the pain that occurs, the anguish, the loneliness during and after the journey. She places us in front of the desire encrypted in the future, as in the series Cartas desde el insilio and Ojos que te vieron ir.

In Éxodo there is a needle piercing the hair, dry and pointed branches, flowers in the bundle of dry wood that at the same time hides the face of the portrayed subject. What does the gold covering the branches that constricts the head against that background whose color seems to be between the ochre of the earth and the waning light of the afternoon of the country left behind? To top it off, the ribbons of the mask encircle the neck tightly.

Sliding ribbons, knots, the aridity confronted with life stubbornly reborn, plus the geographical and metaphorical distance ever greater from the homeland. The viewer’s gaze will remain at the level of the temple almost exposed, to drill it and delve into the thoughts, that cliff whose weight forces her to tilt her head, to seek support in her arms. From what we find there, that mental landscape where anxiety and unease alternate, if we succeed, what could we whisper in her ear once the barrier of branches has been overcome, even at the risk of hurting ourselves or not being heard?

Undoubtedly, the chinstrap is binding, constricting, even cloistering; moreover, the hair is never shown free, it is braided or gathered in a bun. The model wears a ribbon or a band, or fits an ornamental comb or a long pin in her hair. In Machete que son poquitos, nos dijeron, the precaution is extreme: the imposition of the turban.

With Machete que son poquitos… opens the series. The title refers to the July 11, 2021 protests that took place in Cuba, therefore, it narrates in ellipsis and condenses both the media and police operation after the order to fight given by the president of the State and Government. If in the image the costume can be understood as a strategy to go out in the street and not be identified by hiding the physiognomy, it also seems to account for the impossibility of enunciating a discourse from a position of dissent.

The turban is a containment barrier, a trap, a prophylaxis. In colors as intense as the drama of that summer, the model seems to have been arranged for the photo that will illustrate a dossier of criminal acts. But little skin is exposed, yet it is extremely eloquent, even if the continuity has been broken by a piece of cloth as a variant of a face mask; yes, the zipper that has been lowered: the chest is exposed, a rose of blood sprouts.

And her look, the look again, amid variations of blue: “It is the only thing in sight. A look of a very tired woman. […] It is a look of great fatigue, of great incomprehension. It has to do with a state of loneliness, desolation. It is the antonym of everything else, which is so colorful, so big, so expressive.”[9] There are gradations of that look in the rest of the series, perhaps it is part of the tones of the “pain style” of Cyrenaica.

If in Gothic art the ribbons suspended over the heads of people and animals are associated with threads of thoughts that connect the physical and mental disposition of the recreated subjects, would it be far-fetched to think that in the series El nuevo orden the ribbons around the neck, bows and braided hair on the nape of the neck, as in the diptych Todo mal, are more than arduous thoughts, and become a gesture of dissent condensed in an idea concerning even the domestic ecosystem, a taking of sides, marginalization, possibility and concretion of a subjugation, also variants of the mask? Is it a question of agency, the notion of the good that one wishes to impose? What is certain is the high barrier of boards that obstruct the vision and the walk to that body that in the diptych is understood and projected from the feminine, whose exposed neck multiplies the vulnerability.

‘Todo mal 1’, Cirenaica Moreira, diptych, from the series ‘The New Order’, work in progress, 2020.
‘Todo mal 2’, Cirenaica Moreira, diptych, from the series ‘The New Order’, work in progress, 2020.

Masks, gloves, coats, chinstraps, a shawl…, such objects and garments are ways to achieve warmth, beauty, protection, distinction and also safeguard against the virus whatever its nature: Sars-Cov-2, vulgarity, totalitarianism, domestic violence, the Amazonization of our data either to enhance cyber-surveillance and total cyber-control, or in the manipulation of our habits and needs.

To that woman behind the nest in the work Están cambiando el orden de los acontecimientos y el sentido de la liturgia, or behind a plastic mask (Inteligencia artificial), or behind a branch where a little red bird rests (La situación de la clase obrera en Inglaterra)—which are nothing but variants of the same mask—, Cirenaica Moreira seems to ask: What do you want to kill in you that has not already died?

Placed on a cliff of ideas, of mornings, of vices, the artist confesses herself. At the same time, she forces us to offer our confession, to give testimony of our own free will or under the imposition of a question. Yes, we are in the presence of a mute loquacity, a contained frenzy.

To understand oneself in a space has a price. To express it and to be understood, it also has a price. The price to pay is usually very high, even more so if the new order has already been established.


[1] Ahmel Echevarría: Dialogue with Cirenaica Moreira, unpublished audio recording, January 2023.

[2] Idem.

[3] Factoría Habana: Rememorando a Cirenaica Moreira, in 10 de 500.

[4] Ahmel Echevarría: Op cit.

[5] Idem.

[6] Mabel Llevat: “Palabras del catálogo de la serie Cartas desde el insilio (1999-2002),” by Cirenaica Moreira, Ediciones Pontón Caribe, Havana, 2002.

[7] Ahmel Echevarría: Op cit.

[8] Idem.

[9] Ahmel Echevarría: Dialogue with Cirenaica Moreira, unpublished audio recording, January 2023.

Ahmel Echevarría  (Havana, 1974). Cuban narrator. He has published the books Inventario (David Award 2004, short story, Ediciones Unión, 2007), Esquirlas (Pinos Nuevos Award 2005, novel, Letras Cubanas, 2006), Días de entrenamiento (Franz Kafka Award for Gaveta Novels, 2010), Búfalos camino al matadero (José Soler Puig Award 2012, novel, Oriente Publishing House, 2013), La noria (Ítalo Calvino Novel Award, 2012, Ediciones Unión, 2013; Cuban Literary Critics' Prize 2013), Insomnio -the fight club- (short stories, Letras Cubanas, 2015), and Caballo con arzones (Alejo Carpentier Novel Prize 2017, Letras Cubanas, 2017; 2017 Literary Critics' Prize).


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