An Inconvenient Woman
A guest post by Asombra:
Antonia Eiriz (1929-1995) was an important Cuban painter who, like her close friend and colleague Guido Llinás, had her career seriously screwed by Castro, Inc. and its determination to control and use art, like everything else, for the benefit of the "revolution." Llinás, who happened to be black but wanted to serve his art instead of Massah Castro, left for exile in Paris in 1963, where he spent the rest of his life. By 1968, Eiriz was under attack by the regime's cultural police, so she couldn't keep painting what and how she wanted. She withdrew into a kind of internal exile and stopped painting for nearly 25 years. She finally came to live in the US in 1993 and resumed her work with great energy and power, but died of a heart attack in 1995.
Her kindly, placid face, like that of an old-fashioned grade school teacher, belied the nature of her paintings, which were never pretty, pleasant or comfortable. They were certainly not meant to decorate anybody's living room. She would never say or explain what they meant, and if asked, she'd reply with something like "It means whatever you see in it." In other words, she was not a talker or writer or signer of political proclamations; she simply created visual images and let the viewers make of them what they would.
Those images, however, were full of fearful, monstrous creatures, darkly menacing or contorted by suffering and despair, like horrible mutants or victims of some nuclear catastrophe. It was nothing like the so-called socialist realism long prevalent in the propaganda art of the Soviet Union and Mao's China--there wasn't a heroic peasant or a smiling soldier anywhere. It's really a wonder she was allowed to put forth such images as long as she was, but eventually the regime's operatives realized this wasn't just funky-weird "modern art" but a reflection of Cuba's "revolutionary" reality, and it sure as hell wasn't the reality they wanted projected.
A major exhibition of her work is currently showing at the Freedom Tower (2nd floor) in downtown Miami, through November 17. The hours are Wed-Sun 12-5, and it's free admission. At least on weekends, there's free parking in the MDC lot next to the Freedom Tower if you tell the parking lot attendant that you're going to see the art at the Freedom Tower. There are some other unrelated exhibitions also going on there, and the Eiriz exhibition includes work by other Cuban artists connected to or influenced by her work. I highly recommend her show, and if you can't make it, you can learn and see more at www.aeiriz.com (but remember that reproduced images are never the same as the real thing, and may do it little justice).
If you go, don't expect to see "nice" art. Some people would call it ugly and brutish, but don't turn away from it; face it and grapple with it, and take note of the titles when present, for they can be rather illuminating. None of the work is pretty, but much of it has a terrible beauty. Keep firmly in mind what and where these harrowing images came from: the dark totalitarian abyss into which Cuba fell. Go, then, if only to meet this remarkable artist who made the darkness visible.
More examples of Eiriz's art below the fold.