Los Cinco Cubanos [del Norte] Libres, Spring 2015
The five pieces that comprise the Los Cinco Cubanos were conceived by the School of One carver in early Spring 2015 and pay homage to Latin American students who have studied at the University of Alberta, especially those who remember the historical contributions of their ancestors from the Cuba. Four of these carvings are “companion pieces” that can stand on their own, even though the works were originally intended to be “coupled” in order to emphasize the spirit of cooperation and collaboration which will always continue to inform the content of the Global Art Project. Companion travel carvings can be seen on the left half of the photo with the two cantores, Doña Lumbrera y Don Cerebrito, and, again, on the far right with the pair called Migratory Solar Fish Canoe and Weathered Onion Head Sail. The fifth piece, found second from the right in this portrait, and entitled Robin Primavera with a Tobacco Leaf Fin, is an inseparable, two-rock carving destined for solitary journeys. Meanwhile, the title of the group Cinco Cubanos, is derived from an extremely important chapter in Cuban-U.S. relations known to serious students of relatively recent Latin American history. The carvings also draw historical inspiration from the vast changes afoot in 2015 with respect to the relationship between those two countries.
A Short Introduction...
Los Cinco Cubanos Libres were given to AR by the School of One prior to a journey to Cuba with family, undertaken by AR when the famous non-Western art exhibition known as the Bienal de la Habana unfolded for 2015. AR is a Canadian citizen born in Cuba who maintains very strong roots in Edmonton. AR’s mother, for example, continues to be very active in the Latin American and Hispanic communities in the city and AR completed a BA in Political Science at the University of Alberta. Following the completion of an MA at Dalhousie University, AR’s scholarly journey continues towards the completion of a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies at Queens University. AR’s doctoral research is directed towards understanding the larger historical implications surrounding the promotion of Revolutionary Cuba abroad through Cuban cultural exhibits and programs, and, in particular, the exhibitions of Cuban artists in Mexico.
On the Bienal de la Habana
For a recent journey of note undertaken by the original Cinco Cubanos in June 2015, please see “Cuban Five visit Robben Island with struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada"
Cuadro-e 1: Description and Exchange
This two-rock carving is guided by a comparative reading of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican and Andean interpretations regarding the intricate relationship between the arc of the horizon and the movement of light as well as complimentary Eurasian insights regarding physical balance, as exemplified by the “gota” (tear)-like base that helps define Robin Primavera. When gently nudged in either direction Robin Primavera will rotate with Tobacco Leaf Fin on its back while too much force will produce an unhappy result. The two rocks for the work originated from the area of Kinbasket Lake, BC in late August, just when the salmon complete their migration towards the Rockies. Meanwhile, the work was given inspiration by the first robin that arrived to the Homeglen School of One during the Spring, as seen in its reddish colour of the main body with the Tobacco Leaf Fin recalling the bird’s wing.
These companion pieces are also guided by a comparative reading of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican and Andean interpretations regarding the intricate relationship between the arc of the horizon and the movement of light as well as complimentary Eurasian insights into physical balance. The Canoe, moreover, combines Mesoamerican notions of diamonds as stars and the collapsible diamond lattice used so effectively for yert construction. Meanwhile, the Weathered Onion Head draws heavily on memories of Byzantine architectural design and “celestial layering” and the natural cracks in the rock help reinforce the aging process unfolding before our eyes. When gently nudged in either direction the Canoe will rotate with the Weathered Onion Head on its back while too much force will produce an unhappy result. The rocks for the two pieces originated from the area of Kinbasket Lake, BC in late August, just when many students begin thinking about their impending migration towards classes.
These two companion pieces are guided by a comparative reading of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican and Andean interpretations into the “spiraling” movement of light, wind and water as well as Eurasian insights regarding a “cosmic egg”. The two travel partners are carved from geodes (known in some circles in North America as “Thunderbird Eggs”), and the features of both carvings tend to follow the original natural designs of the rocks as observed at first glance by the School carver. The “hair-like” fissures found on the larger piece recall the cascades of light tumbling down into the North Saskatchewan River Valley during the Summer. Doña Lumbrera and Don Cerebrito will neatly rotate according to a “celestial dance”, and, with some determined help, will “whistle” in a way that remembers the solitude of an Artic Wind during a mid-Winter night in Northern Alberta. In addition to Latin American students, past, present and future, the carvings also pay homage to eternal influence of the musicians and music of Cuba upon the global cultural landscape.
The first chapter of the journeys of the Los Cinco Cubanos [del Norte] Libres began with a meeting between one of the directors of the Homeglen School of One and AR at vegetarian and vegan restaurant called The Clever Rabbit in order to discuss collaboration and ways to document AR’s academic journeys and unique perspectives. AR explained to the School of One that The Clever Rabbit Vegetarian Cafe is an extremely worthwhile and reasonably priced food venue. The School of One director, moreover, remains impressed with the restaurant’s pleasant surroundings, the coffee and the excellent, welcoming service. The meeting followed a routine that most Latin Americanist scholars would find familiar. AR arrived late and the conversation began and ended with family matters and was spiced with some requisite gossip regarding the comings of goings of various scholars as well as the trajectories of Latin American programs at leading academic institutions found throughout the Americas. Then, as expected, serious conversation regarding cultural exchange, history and theoretical approaches was woven into a practical discussion regarding archival repositories, recent scholarship, and, of course, potential funding for long term research projects. During the meeting, when the following three description portraits were taken, Los Cinco Cubanos were given to AR with the encouragement from the School representative that at least four of the carvings be given as gifts during travels in Cuba, Mexico or elsewhere in the world, including Edmonton. AR was also provided with the descriptions of the carvings that correspond to each of these three photographs.
Cuadro-e 2: Los Cantores en Cuba with AR
The companion pieces Doña Lumbrera and Don Cerebrito were photographed at the historical Revolution Square in Havana, on June 3, 2015 on a scorching 35° Celsius morning. The two carvings were placed atop one of the walls flanking the star-shaped José Martí Memorial and the 59 foot white marble sculpture of the Cuban Apostle carved in situ by Juan José Sicre. José Martí is but one of the Cuban national heroes whose representations surround the 72,000 square meters of Revolution Square.
Found in the background of each side of the companion pieces in the photograph are visual representations of two commanders of the Cuban Revolution. To the left, a sixteen-tonne sculpture by Enrique Ávila adorns the façade of the Ministry of Interior and faces the Square since 1993. The sculpture reproduces the familiar lines of Alberto Korda's epic photograph of Che Guevara, taken in 1960 at the memorial of the victims slain by the terrorist act that occasioned the explosion of the ship La Coubre in the Havana harbour. To the right, on the Ministry of Information and Communications building, a stylistically similar sculpture by the same artist depicts Camilo Cienfuegos. The third historical commander of the Revolution, Cienfuegos disappeared with his Cessna-310 monoplane during an overnight flight from the province of Camagüey to Havana. Neither the plane nor his body was ever found. The sculpture was placed in its current location facing Revolution Square in 2009.
My intention was to place Doña Lumbrera and Don Cerebrito in a physical position previously occupied by important historical figures such as Fidel Castro and Pope John Paul II. Thus, the companion pieces can figuratively gaze upon the same landscape as these leaders, a position that is implicitly negated in the photograph by the emptiness of the square and the position of one of the carvings facing the photographer who becomes a de facto witness yet retains the most active role in the composition. Doña Lumbrera and Don Cerebrito remain in Havana, now accompanying two wonderful Cuban women who both witnessed and participated in a number of momentous events taking place on Revolution Square.
For memories and memorizations found on the Square, please see: “Cuba: Final Preparations Made for Pope Paul II,”
For some other routine staged Square preparations and the thoughts of at least two witnesses, please see, “Preparations for 1st of May Festivities in Havana” by AP Archive,
Any historical reference to singing and music in the Square should include, “Van, Van, Revolution Square, September 2009,”
Also, for the entire concert in the Square, please see “Paz sin fronteras 2009 – Full Concert,”
Cuadro-e 3: Cumpleaño feliz, 2015 Las Vegas edition
Turning 29 years old was a milestone I never really imagined. Celebrating my last year before my twenties were gone in Vegas was also an incredibly unexpected development. Walking out of the McCarran International Airport during a hot summer night during July 2015, I though that its location on Paradise Road was wishful at best. Plutus Road seemed more apt, a name inspired by the Fourth Circle described by Dante Alighieri in the Canto VII of his Inferno:
… I saw multitudes to every side of me; their howls were loud while, wheeling weights, they used their chests to push. They struck against each other; at that point, each turned around and, wheeling back those weights, cried out: Why do you hoard? Why do you squander?
Besides the unbearable heat - rising to 41°C during my three-day stay, and perhaps a contributing factor to Vegas having the highest suicide rates of any large city in the U.S. - the predominant feelings in the city were claustrophobia and fear. Everyone seemed to be there out of fear of something: of not being loved, of not having enough money, of being caught by someone because of previous deeds. Even my decision to return home early, the day after my birthday, was influenced by fear; I feared staying in that town any longer.
While waiting in Terminal 3 for the plane that would carry me to Edmonton safety, McCarran felt as the haven described by Joan Didion and Hunter S. Thompson, and made me feel happy I had known Vegas, if only briefly. My calm was only interrupted by the constant chime of the 1300 slot machines that populate the airport, selling dreams of wealth to the over 44 million people who travel through McCarran airport yearly until the last possible instant. Minutes before my gate called for boarding, I decided to leave Migratory Solar Fish Canoe and Weathered Onion Head Sail perched atop one of these slot machines, hoping their commentary on balance and wealth and aging would indirectly influence the next person to sit down.
Cuadro-e 4: En Fin, En México, con AR, October 2015
Valle de Bravo, a small colonial town two hours away from Mexico City by bus, is one of the best locations for paragliding in the world. During October a trusty, smooth breeze guides flying enthusiasts the 2.5km separating the jumping site of El Peñón from the small beach facing the Miguel Alemán Damn that serves as landing site. At the top of El Peñón – located more than two thousand meters above sea level – crowds gather to cheer on new jumpers like myself. The face of a young man standing apart from the crowd stands out in my memory, probably because he was next to a beautiful Pinto horse while holding an eagle, in full hunting regalia.
While I contemplated this astonishing scenery, my friend and paragliding coach was busy strapping me to all sorts of contraptions: harnesses and pulleys cascaded across my legs and arms and back. Instructing me not to touch any metal buckles after the jump, he walked me rapidly towards the edge of the launching pad. “When I say run you run ok?” he asked and I nodded, foreseeing a practice run that never took place. Suddenly in the air, I thought that the Sperry top siders I was wearing were an unfortunate footwear choice. “This is absurd” I told my friend, after he executed a particularly brutal arabesque in the air, positioning the parachute between my body and the trees below. “I can't help it then”- he said laughing - “My great grandfather was Albert Camus.”