Queloides at Mattress Factory

Review of Queloides, Part 1

It’s exciting to see a new Cuban show at the MF, especially one that explores race and racism.  Cuba is a country with a complex set of issues.  Cuban Americans that I have spoken to have been reluctant to talk about their experiences.  In a land where family members are often torn apart by politics, I can’t imagine the magnitude of racism on the island.  My immediate thoughts before visiting the show revolved around the opportunity the MF has with this exhibition to address race and racism in their neighborhood.  Having lived on the North Side of Pittsburgh for a couple years, I saw firsthand the tensions caused by the rapid gentrification of the community.

The exhibition spans both of the museum buildings including some work outside.  My favorite two pieces are the car (Armando Mariño) in the parking lot* – a near mint condition antique Plymouth with ceramic legs of twelve or so Afro-Cubans holding up, and potentially powering the car – and the shrine in the basement of the main building.  The later, a shrine of roughly sixty statues of La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, patron saint of Cuba stand in a variety that ranges from cheap knickknack to finely crafted folk art.  The statues have an iconography specific to Cuban legend, (Involving two men and a slave boy finding the original Virgin statue while in a boat at sea.)  Around an island-like platform supporting the sculptures, A quote from nineteenth century Cuban hero José Martí reads, “Either the Republic is based upon the full character of each and every one of its sons and daughters (….) or the republic is not worth a teardrop from our women or a single drop of blood by our brave fighters.” Martí fought for Cuban independence from Spain.  I believe his quote in the context of the installation alludes to a national solidarity perpetuated by the belief in a power greater than the ruling regime.  The installation, by Meira Marrero and José Toirac, demands reverence as it perfectly occupies the grotto-like basement of the building.

Upstairs, the next piece that I encountered is Alexis Esquivel’s Automatic Vehicle to Collect Religious Offerings.  I was expecting a bit more edge in the show, not whimsical sarcasm, so I didn’t care for this one.  It was supposed to be an interactive piece, allowing the visitor to operate a remote controlled model street sweeper of sorts.  (Or perhaps its dysfunction is part of the commentary.)  Esquivel’s strength is in painting.  Several large works comment on the “whiteness” of American politics as well as the supremacy of America in the Western Hemisphere. His content ranges from obvious to mysteriously symbolic.  His style is a collage of political and personal imagery.

The work of Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons reminds me of the Cuban art that I have seen, especially the work of Tania Bruguera.  (Who does some amazing work and is strangely accepted by the Castro regime.) Like Bruguera, Capos-Pons utilizes symbolic elements of the earth (sugar blocks) to create rich, sensory experiences.  The piece, two walls of raw sugar bricks narrowing with a pile of refined sugar at the end, immediately reads as feminist art. An accompanying video features communication between a white woman and a black woman.  I wasn’t too interested in this piece, but the thought of licking the sugar blocks when nobody was looking was tempting.

I spent a lot of time looking at the mural sized painting of Douglas Pérez.  I wasn’t that excited about it at first, but it grew on me.  Pérez has his own style.  He layers allegorical imagery, arranging characters in a cycle of power and oppression.  The piece addresses poverty, the struggle of the worker, corporate influence, greed and death in a grotesque, highly detailed manner.  (Bosch meets Darger) A skeletal snake creature devours a giant centipede. (Or vice versa)  Each creature is made up of people involved in the struggle.  The work is titled, Ecosistema.

There is a lot to see – and a lot to write about – at Queloides.  I’ll continue this review another day.  It’s too nice outside.  I want to take pictures of Halloween zombies on Pittsburgh front porches.

*I just found out from MF staff that the title of the car piece by Armando Mariño is Raft.  The car was procured by the museum for the installation and restored from a “chipped grey matte finish.”  (This is good example of how dedicated the museum is to obtaining the materials that resident artists need for installations.)

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