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Monograph
Williams Carmona

ArtNexus #64 - Arte en Colombia #110
Apr - Jun 2007




Manuel Álvarez Lezama


Carmona¿s work is a hallucinatory mirror of realities and inventions, one that reveals both the history and the fiction of life as lived in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Latin diaspora since 1492. Carmona accomplishes this with surrealism.


There are artists who decide to chronicle their times, and their work bears witness to a specific present. Other artists unintentionally become the most original and powerful chroniclers of their times. In the case of Williams Carmona, the young Cuban artist, a combination of these two paths was seen from early in his career. From the late 1980s to the present, Carmona¿s work has been a hallucinatory mirror of realities and inventions, one that reveals both the history and the fiction of life as lived in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Latin diaspora since 1492. Carmona accomplishes this with a surrealism born of the Cuban revolution of 1959 and the Capitalist Surrealism of Puerto Rico and Miami¿and why not, if everything falls within some unreality since the time Columbus sailed to what was later known as the New World?

It has been said that some of Christopher Columbus¿s descriptions in his diary and letters are purely surreal. The sirens, the flora, and his vision of ¿the other¿ make fantastic literature that opened doors to writers such as Neruda, Carpetier, and García Márquez and also to many of our greatest artists. And it has also been said that surrealism has been one of the elements defining Latin America since the time of the conquistadors¿Ponce de León, the destruction of the Incas and the Aztecs, slavery, Afro-American religions, and the contagious rhythms¿all the way through modernity and the present¿from Miranda and Bolívar/Manuela through Porfirion Díaz, the Mexican Revolution, Lam, Frida Kahlo, Evita, Matta, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Fidel Castro, Lezama, Miami, J-Lo, Che Guevara (as a Pop icon on t-shirts sold throughout the world), and reggaetón. In fact, all of this postmodern poetry and craziness defined Latin Americans for centuries before the undefinable concept of postmoderity existed. We have always been baroque, romantic, and brutally postmodern. And if there has been a place where these magical intensities and mysteries have been magnified, it is the Caribbean: the eternal carnival of carnal pleasures, terrible injustices, incredible pain and emptiness, and unending dreams and hopes.

During the twentieth century (a century that has not yet come to an end, just as the nineteenth century did not end in 1900), we have been at our most surreal, and numerous Caribbean artists have attempted to capture, interpret, and invent scenarios that not even Bosch would have dared imagine because in the Caribbean, nothing/everything is true and everything/nothing is possible. Fortunately, our surrealist art is not repeated from one generation to the next, so that this parallel history is always a gift, a challenge.

Williams Carmona was born in Cuba in the mid-1960s; he was educated in the country¿s best art institutions in the 1980s, and he has lived in Puerto Rico since the early 1990s. Carmona has been one of the most provocative voices of Latin America, building a discourse he calls ¿tropical surrealism¿ that helps us to see and understand a part of our present in our many Macondos. In the best tradition of our surrealists, who never repeat themselves from one generation to the next, Carmona has become a performer of a parallel history, making it the same yet different.

Since his art student days in Cuba, Carmona has questioned and challenged the order established by an already tired and futureless revolution. This made him a controversial artist, one opposed to the manipulation and management of art with ideological purposes by the State¿s cultural institutions. Like many of his colleagues, Carmona left Cuba to explore the artistic freedoms offered outside his country. Both his talent and his personality, as well as his experiences in various places before settling in Puerto Rico (like Mexico, Miami, and New York), have helped his work to be exhibited in important spaces and acquired by significant private collectors, ones who acknowledge the rare embrace of a truly extraordinary surrealist discourse and an impressive professionalism. Some of Carmona¿s works are now in the collections of prestigious museums in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. Already in 1997, before Carmona was thirty years old, his work was sold at Christie¿s and Sotheby¿s, which brought his rich and controversial discourse to the attention of the most rigorous critics. Since then, Latin American art lovers, and specifically the lovers of Latin surrealism, have made it known that they expect this complex alchemist of an artist to reach newer and greater heights.

Carmona didn¿t disappoint them, and his incursion into the figuration of Caribbean expressionism, his existential scenes and tables, his metaphorical fired eggs, his Renaissance-like heads, his complex and dramatic installations, and his extraordinary drawings prove that he is a visionary young man.
Recently, Carmona surprised us with his new three-dimensional mirrors: his painted frying pans, such as the work Si hablas de mi te coseré la lengua (If you talk about me, I¿ll staple your tongue), his imposing sculptures presented in San Juan in late 2003, and now his passionate combinations of mannequins, paintings, and sculptures.

In his frying pans, Carmona successfully combined Duchamp¿s aesthetic proposal that redefined art, Warhol¿s brilliant concept of repetition that transformed the new forms and values of post-industrialization into poetry, a culinary tool common in the Caribbean (we use frying pans for everything), and his powerful surrealist discourse¿a discourse he has been developing since being a student at the Instituto Superior de las Artes (ISA) in Cuba, one that takes him to ever more provocative proposals.

These three-dimensional works¿let¿s call them visual impacts¿combine objects usually seen apart from aesthetics (like frying pans and mannequins) and surrealist ¿tales¿ that are both very personal and tremendously political. These tales can include anything from well-known characters from Renaissance art to an interesting dialogue with the great masters of twentieth-century surrealism, from the artist¿s secret romances to current realities¿the Cuban Revolution, wars in the Middle East, traumas of globalization, the perpetual and glorious mysteries of sex, and our immense desire for achieving any kind of immortality.

In the case of the mannequins, En la punta de mis memorias (In the tip of my memories), Carmona challenges us by translating, interpreting, and immortalizing present physical surroundings as the images, memories, and inventions that form our self-identities.

Gathering objects like Duchamp, Carmona finds discarded and orphaned mannequins and modifies them, giving them a new life with new purposes. Through the selection of these objects and pieces of shared pasts, Carmona¿s painting can be seen as a series of tattoos or dreams. By ¿dressing¿ them, the artist shares the most terrible pains of existence and celebrates the most beautiful moments of the poem we must compose throughout our lives. Carmona dares to create maps in which beings as varied as Veleasquez¿s characters, beggars from Old San Juan, Dalí, Martí, Jesus Christ, and Old Havana prostitutes walk indiscriminately. The mannequins, those surrogates we dress and undress and who end up in the garbage, are reinvented so that they once again are objects of desire, so that they are finally able to tell stories and love.

With his new, impressive, three-dimensional work, with his recent canvas paintings in which he narrates and transforms the feats of the balseros (rafters) into epic poetry, such as the work Si vienes conmigo puede que tengas riesgos (If you come with me you may have risks), in which Jesus Christ escapes the Holocaust and Cubans enter spaces of freedom, Carmona continues to bring us along on an unforgettable journey. It becomes clearer that we need to persist in our efforts to avoid insignificance in this short life. Williams Carmona¿s new work makes clear that he is an important chronicler of what Christopher Columbus called Paradise, which we continually try to make Hell.




 


 

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