CARRYING THE CROSS ON HIS SHOULDERS: The art of Alejandro Mendoza and the Cuban religious tradition. Alejandro Mendoza lives, and produces his art in Miami; not in his hometown: Havana. However, this space dislocation generates no differences in the Cuban distinctive features that permeate his work. American art collectors consider as “authentic” only those artistic works made inside the island. But Miami has become a true “reservoir” of Cuban culture inside America; a huge aircraft carrier ashore Biscayne Bay. Starting in 1980 with the massive arrival of “Marielitos”, this city in Florida – 45 minutes flight away from Havana- is no longer the winter beach resort for American retired citizens, and has eventually transformed into the second capital for Cubans. Miami is also the final destination for over 10,000 Cubans that legally emigrate from the island to the United States every year. Newcomers change their vital expectations in a postmodern capitalist economy and bring new elements to the Cuban-hood that was transported by previous immigrant groups. Mixing the Calle 8 domino and arrozcongri (mixed black beans, and rice) at La Carreta restaurant with Oprah show, spiced with Mexican TV soap operas, broadcast by Televisa, and the every day hard work at Hialeah factories, Miami is becoming the most incredible cultural lab of the Cuban civilization at the dawn of the XXI century. His cultural education has significantly marked Alejandro’s work. A new cultural movement began in Cuba in 1980 (later called Cuban Renaissance.) It was led by a small group of artists and supported by the Cuban critic Gerardo Mosquera, who exhibited the famous Volumen I show that eventually became a landmark in Cuban contemporary art history. By the end of the decade, the concepts driven by the New Cuban Art were widely spread among a great number of artists graduated from the Instituto Superior de Arte (Higher Art Institute), a state university that became the center of most innovative artistic proposals. Members of ephemeral art groups like Pur?, ArteCalle, Grupo Provisional or Nudo, these young funny artists reintroduced the performance, the expressionism, the conceptualism, as responsive weapons to face the decorative and pleasing tone present in the Cuban art during the 70’s, and proposed a deconstructive art for those iconic rituals manufactured by the Cuban establishment for the mass. At the Instituto Superior Pedag?gico (Higher Pedagogical Institute,) where he became a Visual Art Teacher (painting and sculpture) Mendoza (among other later artists as Pedro Vizca?no, Armando Mari?o, Pedro Alvarez, Alexis Esquivel) made close contact with the “radical” students from the Instituto Superior de Arte, and learned analytical teaching methods for creation that facilitated the recycling of images, taken from high or low sources, as the leitmotif of his work. Alejandro has made use of the Cross as a visual pretext for many years. But this peculiar quotation does not specially imply an intimate relation with catholic religion; it did not happen either with those artists commissioned by the church for the Counter Reform in the XVIII century. As a symbol, the Cross is definitely associated to a long period of universal history, but it is also connected to the Cuban history. With a sword and a Cross in both hands, exhausted after dissuasive discussions with his sailors, Christopher Columbus arrived to Cuban shores on October 12th, 1492. There were also crosses hanging on the seed-made necklaces Fidel Castro’s barbudos (rebels) used to wear when they marveled all Cuba in 1959. Pope John Paul II waved a cross in his hand when he landed in Cuba in 1998, in a trip to reaffirm the catholic nature of the Cuban people. All these contents may be associated to Mendoza’s works, but only in a partial approach. His wood Crosses are medium size format sculptures, with finish resembling, metals and other academics techniques. They are ready to be placed on the wall of a house, or a church…who knows…and their central part is a peculiar stage where no dramatic representations of saints’ images appear, but reproductions of objects coming from real world. A fine ironic accent in the titles of his works is combined with the surrealistic tradition of the found object, as Joseph Cornell, and Rauschenberg did in the American art. Unlike Chicanos artists that manipulate the Virgin of Guadalupe, and relate it to feminist approaches or current situation at Mexican communities in America, Mendoza’s crosses are not meant to cry, pray or bow in front of them. They are containers where the artist has placed questions that kindly challenge the spectator thoughts. It is a very particular way of reusing the most popular symbol of Christian religious art within a contemporary cultural proposal. Mendoza’s work falls within one of the largest tradition of Cuban art: the religious theme. It dates back to the XVI century, with the work of Juan Camargo. While It became more visible during the XVIII century with the mulatto painter Nicolas de la Escalera, it seemed to vanish by the end of the XIX century, with the symbolist poetic trends and Art Noveau. However, recent research works (De la Fuente 2001) has traced the living nature of this topic in Cuban contemporary art. Since the 30’s with Fidelio Ponce, a mayor figure within the anti academic avant-guard movement, up to contemporary artists like Juan Francisco Elso, Bedia, Mendive, Carlos Estevez and Esterio Segura, the Cuban art records the presence of several religious believes: catholic, Yoruba, Jew, new ages; all of them integrated now in a public way to the Cuban spiritual life and with no atheistic or theological restrictions in the communist horizon. Together with these artists, Mendoza contributes to the new reality with a more universal vision of religions, less linked to orthodoxies and closer to common men. Hemingway said: “A writer should perpetuate the place he best knows.” Mendoza’s crosses reenact the religious tradition of Cuban art, perpetuating this theme in his distinctive manner, inside the parameters of the contemporary art, while expressing –with irony and irreverence- the need for faith of the current man. Abelardo Mena, La Havana, Dec 2005 Curator at the National Museum of Fine Arts, Cuba. Art Critic and Cuban Art Consultant. email: email@example.com
Biography: ALEJANDRO MENDOZA Born in 1967, Havana, Cuba. Lives and Works in Miami. 1987 National School of the Art and Graphics Design, Havana, Cuba. 1992 ISPEJV. Higher Institute of the Art, Habana, Cuba. SOLO EXHIBITIONS: 2007 Cross-ing Reno “Sierra Arts Gallery”, Sierra Arts Foundations, Reno, Nevada, USA 2005 “ CROSS-ING LAREDO”, Laredo Center for the Arts, Goodman Gallery, Laredo TX,USA 2003 “ Madre Dolores”, Casa Mobile ,Coral Gables , Miami, FL. USA. 2002 "Revelations", University of Central Florida Art Gallery, Orlando, FL. USA. 2000 “ Con la Cruz Acuesta”, Freites-Revilla Gallery, Miami, FL. USA. 1999 “ Bandeja de Tibur?n”, ALPHA International Gallery, Miami, FL. USA. 1999 “ Oraciones y enga?os”, Rectangle Art Space, Miami, FL.USA. 1998 “ Sembrando mi f?”, Casa Cultural de Cozumel, Q. Roo. M?xico. 1996 “ La Isla” Maty Roca Galer?a, Canc?n, Q.Roo, M?xico 1995 “Andando por estas calles” Centro de Arte UDC, Galer?a La Capilla, Cordoba, V.C M?xico. 1992 “APOTEOSIS TROPICAL” Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales, Havana, Cuba. 1991 “ HECHO EN CUBA” Galer?a, 23 Y 12, La Habana, Cuba. 1990 “ Lo Criollo Eres Tu”, Galer?a Casa Estudiantil El Castillito, ISPEJV. Habana, Cuba. SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS: 2007 “DEVIANT BEHAVIOR”, National Juried Exhibition, ARTFORMZ Alternative Gallery, Miami, FL. USA. 2007 Two person show “Cuban Identity: Religion, Philosophy and the Visual Arts”, Barry University. Miami Shore, FL.USA 2007 “Laudable Latins”, Ormond Memorial Art Museum & Gardens Ormond Beach, Florida. 2007 “Obras”, Contemporary Latin American Artists, Projects Gallery, Philadelphia, PA. USA. 2007 Walkway Gallery, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, CO, USA. 2006 "It's so UN-FAIR", ARTFORMZ Gallery, Miami, FL. USA. 2006 IX Exposici?n de Arte Latinoamericano y del Caribe, Museum of the Americas and Broward Community College South Campus, Pembroke Pines, FL. 2006 “Convergence”, ARTFORMZ Gallery, Miami, FL. USA. 2006 “Black and White”, Projects Gallery, Philadelphia, PA.USA. 2006 "Arte Sagrado 2006”, National Juried Exhibition (Curator’s Juror David Kroft and Eric Gibbons), Art Gallery at Concordia University at Austin, TX. USA. 2006 “Memory and Meditation” Robert A. Peck Art Gallery, Central Wyoming College, Riverton.WY.USA. 2006 “Rundgang”, International presentation and review portfolio projects, Staedelschule Frankfurt, Germany. 2005 “Sensuous Delights”, LoPressionism Gallery, Melbourne, FL. USA. 2005 “Open Show”, 201 Gallery, Laredo, TX. USA 2005 “Between Dimensions”, Projects Gallery, Philadelphia, PA.USA. 2005 “Feed your senses“, INFUSION GALLERY, Los Angeles, CA.USA. 2005 “GABLES ARTIST”, PIAG Museum, Coral Gables, Miami, FL.USA. 2004 “The Spiritual VII”, International Exhibition, PERIOD GALLERY, Nebraska, USA. 2004 “Of Church and State”, 3 person show, 621 GALLERY, Tallahassee, FL, USA. 2004 “Nuevas Tendencias #14”, Museo Hispano Latinoamericano”. Miami, FL, USA. 2003 “Contemporary Latin Artist” Miami-Dade Community College. North Campus. Miami, FL, USA. 2003 “KUWANOS”, Museo Hispano Latinoamericano”. Miami, FL, USA. 2003 “Para los Pr?jimos”, Galer?a del Sol, Panam? City, Panam?. 2002 “Conspirators”, ALPHA International Gallery, Miami, USA. 2002 “Pure Media”, ALPHA International Gallery, Miami, USA. 2002 “FULL&FINE”, Casa Mobile, Coral Gable, Miami, USA. 2002 “Art Miami, Palm Beach”, Florida, USA. 2002 “SOHO International Art Competition”, Agora Gallery, New York, USA. 2001 “Latin American Paintings”. Center for the Arts. Vero Beach, Florida, USA. 2001 Feria Iberoamericana de Arte, Caracas, Venezuela. 2001 “Arte Latin-o-.Americano”, Dos Lunas, New M?xico, USA. 2000 “Tierra Adentro”, A.Cueto Gallery, San Juan, Puerto Rico. 2000 “Art Miami, Palm Beach”, FL, USA. 2000 “Salon Int. De Verano” Museo Hispano Latinoamericano”. Miami, FL, USA. 1999 “OLD HAVANA”, Freites-Revilla Gallery, Miami, FL. USA. 1998 “El ARTE DE HACER”, Cuban/American art show, Ottawa, Canad?. 1997 "The Temporary Contemporary Sculpture Show", The Arts Mall, Winter Park, Florida 1996 “Arte Joven”, Calle 8, Miami, FL, USA. 1994 “ Arte sin Frontera” Matty Roca Galer?a. Canc?n, M?xico. 1992 “Von Dort Aus: Kuba” , Ludwing Forum Internationale Kunst , Aachen, Germany. 1992 “ BIG PAINTING” Sala Peque?a, Centro de Arte de Holgu?n, Cuba. 1992 “ DE FRENTE MARCHEN”,Centro de Arte Luz y Oficio, Havana, Cuba. 1991 “ Texto y Contexto” Galer?a la sala obscura, Holgu?n, Cuba. 1990 “ El Objeto Esculturado”Centro de Desarrollo de las Arte Visuales. Havana Cuba. 1989 “ II Jornada Cient?fica Pedag?gica.Instituto Superior Pedag?gico.Havana,Cuba. 1989 “ Buena Pintura”. Jaime Wash Fundation. Madrid. Espa?a. 1989 “ Made in Havana Goup Show”, Madrid, Espa?a. PRIZE AND AWARD: Best Show, IX Exposici?n de Arte Latinoamericano y del Caribe, Museum of the Americas and Broward Community College South Campus,Pembroke Pines, FL. Spiritual VII International Exhibition “High Standard of excellence”.USA. SOHO International Art Competition, New York .USA Kansas City Artists Coalition's. USA. Menci?n de Honor Arte Joven, Universidad de las Am?ricas, Puebla M?xico. Menci?n Sal?n Nacional de Arte Contempor?neo Cubano. Centro Wilfredo Lam, Cuba. Premio Jornada Cient?fica Pedag?gica, ISPEJV, La Havana, Cuba . UP-COMING EXHIBITS:
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