The Urgent Drawings of Camila Lobón

There is still time to see the “PROJ(3)CT” exhibition and the artists Alejandro Taquechel, Nelson Jalil, and Camila Lobón at Zapata Gallery in Miami, skillfully curated by Rodolfo de Athayde.

Inside and Out

Cuban visual art in the second millennium’s second decade is anti-communist at a level never before seen. What defines this art? It definitively breaks the self-censorship gag (“against the revolution, nothing”), as reaffirmed at the IV UNEAC Congress (1991) by the theorist Carlos Aldana: “Our party is not a party of aesthetes but of politicians.” Speaking clearly? Taboo! It was essential to resort to the sophism of not saying anything outside the official line (while doing the opposite).

In 2014, Danilo Maldonado (El Sexto) anticipated the future with the performance “Rebelión en la granja,” (“Rebellion at the Farm”) while walking two pigs named Raúl and Fidel. Another attempt in the same year was Tania Bruguera with her “#Yotambiénexijo” (#Ialsodemand) in Plaza de la Revolución. In 2020, Gorki launched a series of innovative anticommunist posters. The top blew off with the San Isidro Movement, leading to the “Dialogue with Cuban Artists.” Is Maykel Osorbo’s protest, handcuffed with El Funky and Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara in the heart of Havana, not a high-level anticommunist performance? In some of the videos from that heated moment, a young outspoken and controversial woman appears. This is Camila Lobón, the artist we are concerned with in this review.

Cuban Artist Camila Lobón

Influences

Lobón is a vigilant beast, aware of everything around her. And her art? Imagine a pictorial arc of connective possibility, a kind of Zeitgeist existing on its own. What currents make up this arc? Goya’s “Los Caprichos” and other decadents from the late 19th century, such as Alfred Kubin and Felicién Rops. Add a dose of expressionism connected to the latter through James Ensor in 1890 (a skillful illustrator, influenced by Holbein’s “The Young,” in the “Totentanz” series). Ensor’s Christ exhibits mixed techniques that Lobón skillfully employs in the “Virus de cuarentena” (“Quarantine Virus”) series.

“The Peaceful Transition God” by Camila Lobón. “Proj(3)ct” Exhibition at Zapata Gallery (Miami) / Image: Courtesy of Rodolfo de Athayde

The Drawing

Ernst Gombrich said that art is drawing, and drawing is movement; more precisely, line and curve in counterpoint. The atom of drawing lies in the stroke. In a drawing from the “Paisajes reflexivos de la conciencia’’ series, where what disturbs is allowed to escape, Lobón presents a rocky landscape with a watercourse, using only line strokes. Another study, “La parte de mi odio que te dejo ver,” shows a poetic iceberg; the hatred that doesn’t surface in a feverish and intricate transversal and zigzag pattern. The energetic “Monta o queda” (in red and black) exhibits a circular and curly stroke, a solution to a relentless blow. Form and content happily merge in the sketch “Ser un tsunami y despingarlos a todos.” “Redes sociales” has a clever graphic solution. Lobón projects a creative force with her own style.

Incarnations of Nightmare

On the opening night of the exhibition, a meticulous individual described Lobón’s work as surrealism. “Only at first glance,” I mentally replied. Surrealism is not political; read Breton’s Manifesto. Surrealism requires a detachment from reality (it is based on Freud’s Unbewessten). But the content of Lobón’s art is openly political, expressionistic, and symbolic (if the latter is interpreted as surreal, that’s fine). Surrealism is about dreamlike paradoxes. Symbolism poetically clouds reality, sometimes excessively. Lobón’s graphic approach shows a certain connection to Polish posters from the 1960s and 1970s, a distant cousin of Cuban posters from the same era. The latter was more devoted to Castroism than the Polish posters of the Brezhnev era (thanks to Gomułka’s Polish “middle way”).

The Dentate Figure

Strong and recurring in Lobón’s work are the tooth box of “La figura con carne baconiana,” Lenica’s “Wozzek,” but above all, Humberto Peña’s dentate mouth in the 1960s. Molars, canines, and incisors appear in the pack of “La rebelión fallida,” “Silencio inoportuno,” and “La palabra inoportuna.” Which opportunity? The long-awaited freedom that never arrived. While the Castro regime dictates, those young people learned the dialectic of the inopportune in San Isidro, which says, “Díaz-Canel singao (bastard), Díaz-Canel singao (bastard)!” Offensive as it may seem, there lies the metaphysical spark of July 11, subsequent imprisonments, and exiles.

“Si mi angustia sirviera tu mesa” by Camila Lobón. “Proj(3)ct” Exhibition at Zapata Gallery (Miami) / Image: Courtesy of Rodolfo de Athayde

Animaloids

It was said that the fertile period of the animaloid in illustration culminated with the encyclopedic incunabulum “Crónicas de Núremberg.” However, Lobón inaugurates a new fauna of Cuban deviants. Let’s see:

  1. La claria/gusano” (The Catfish/Worm) is a hybrid of one of the world’s hundred most harmful species, imported to Cuba in the 1990s; it feeds on trout, catfish, turtles, and frogs. (The added annelid only complicates the tangle of Cuban reality).

    “The Best Partner” by Camila Lobón
  2. “El compañero” (The Companion) (what an off putting word for my generation!) is a kind of four-legged therianthrope, and Cuba is full of them.
  3. El ego/cubano” (The Ego/Cuban) is a bipedal figure, the trunk coiled in on itself and the head buried in its rear (suspect the foul diet of the said individual).
  4. The toothy mouth adorned with lavish plumage makes its entrance, “Ego intelectónico.” (Intellectual Ego) Here, Lobón turns the terrifying into tiki. Legend has it that when everything was still, silent, and watery, certain deities, covered in blue feathers, lay in the primordial waters: Tepew, the Redactor; Quetzal, the Shaping Serpent; and Xpiyacóc, the god of creation.
  5. “El ego revolucionario” (The revolutionary ego,) what can I say! A pig-headed Cyclops leads a revolution among the dead in a puddle of filth.
  6. A truly frightening piece is “Fin de una verde mañana,” (The End of a Green Morning) reminiscent of Petromyzon marinus, transformed into the Abilisk from Guardians of the Galaxy.
  7. The tentacled being with venous roots and a toothy mouth is titled “La palabra inoportuna” (The Inopportune Word). It’s a metaphysical cry.
  8. “Ego perdido” (Lost Ego): A highly elaborate ink drawing embodies something unnameable and shadowy. You have to see it to believe it.

Two Separate Dreams

In every exhibition, pieces always stand out, with such impact that they don’t require explanation. Here, “Sueño con patrullas en el mar” (Dream of Patrols in the Sea) and “Sueño de una dictadura de verano” (Dream of a Summer Dictatorship) are notable.

Drawing by Camila Lobón. “Proj(3)ct” Exhibition at Zapata Gallery (Miami) / Image: Courtesy of Rodolfo de Athayde

Parables

Sometimes, when drawing and text complement each other, comic strips appear (the best example is the hieroglyph). The aesthetic lies in the right measure. Lobón’s text, if anything, is minimalist. However, now, at the risk of erring, I take the liberty to add some puns:

  1. The cryptic “Los amores perdidos” (The Lost Loves) alludes to Ouroboros; they are the serpents that devour each other in a chain of perpetual cycles and destiny. However, the last serpent doesn’t bite its tail. Lobón presents it vomiting a darkness of birds, a dark region of the soul, foreseen in the Egyptian Amduat: “My spirit belongs to his body, my shadow to his condition, I am the guardian of the criminals.”
  2. “El Dios de la transición pacífica” (The God of Peaceful Transition) is a symbolist humanoid, pregnant, with a pig-headed halo, reminiscent of Fortunio Liceti’s nightmares. Lobón adds an urgent manifesto: “Let it be the rebirth of the suffering and the cure for the fools. Whether with you or without you. But let it be.” The question for this God remains: What if the transition is not peaceful; would it still be worth it?
  3. In another drawing, a group of Cubans, at the behest of the Supreme Leader, shout and gesticulate: “Yo soy Fidel” (I am Fidel). A chant repeated ad nauseam year after year for six decades, at every gathering in Plaza de la Revolución. The chant becomes automatic behavior, a syndrome of contagiousness announced by Gustave Le Bon, of castrated and mutilated individuality. The masses see themselves in the leader, and he sees himself in them. “Yo soy Fidel” is the cheer for “Paredón” (Firing Squad) for young people condemned without trial in 1959. Lobón points out, “And who is he?” Ignorant of her generation, the tragic novel that we Cubans have written, a hollow sounding board, an ointment for the suffering masses, a note that doesn’t fill the glass, a drop that doesn’t diminish, Castrista sperm.
  4. “Los amigos obrando…” (Friends at Work…): In Greek mythology, Panoptes is the protective guardian of Io. In H. P. Lovecraft’s horror narrative, it is known as “Cthulhu,” an astral entity with insatiable tentacles and eyes. Watched existence, the eye stuck in the eye of the sphincter, where your neighbor could be the CDR informer and your best friend, a seguroso (government spy).
  5. What does the “sueño de la revolución” (dream of the revolution) produce? Flies. Which of Lobón’s drawings are we talking about? Whoever identifies it will receive a gallery prize, assuresAthayde, the exhibition curator.
  6. “Espíritu adaptado” (Adapted Spirit) shows a fetal pygmy, the head attached to the oppressive womb. The deformed entity ignoramus, like someone condemned to Tartarus, repeats: “I firmly and consciously believe in my guilt, and if I can still serve, even if it’s as a bad example, the Revolution has me at its service, and if this sentence, which could, of course, be execution, arrives, at that moment, I promise you all that my last thought will be for Fidel, for the great Revolution that he has given to this people.”
  7. “Inventario de faltantes” (Inventory of Missing Items) is the third panel of Lobón’s Garden of Delights. The pun here is the Castroist hell.
Drawings by Camila Lobón. View of the exhibition “Proj(3)ct”, at Zapata Gallery (Miami). Image: Courtesy of Rodolfo de Athayde
Advertismentspot_img
ALFREDO TRIFF
ALFREDO TRIFF
Alfredo Triff is a tenured professor of philosophy at Miami Dade College and professor of design history at the University of Miami. He has written cultural criticism for Miami New Times, Sun Post and El Nuevo Herald. His books include Pulpa, Hígado al ensayo y Miami Arts Explosion.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related posts

Advertismentspot_img

Latest posts

An Amnesty Law for Cuban Political Prisoners, is It Possible?

For the visit last January 10, Ailex Marcano carried coffee, toast, and a soda. Ángel Jesús, her 29-year-old son, is not very demanding. The...

The Flesh of Julián: Tattoos of an Abakuá

“Abakuás are known for their music, dance, rituals, and distinctive symbols, including tattoos,” says photographer Jorge Bonet, interested in how this ancient body art...

Routes of the Political Imagination in Cuba

In totalitarianism, even more than in the different types of authoritarianism, the capacity to imagine is as restricted as the capacity to organize people,...