14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 30 May 2017 — If something is clear in the work of Jesus Hernández- Güero is that he is not a complacent artist. His transgressive look is insolent and unrelated to any political militancy, religious creed or commercial convenience. The artist raises sparks everywhere: in Cuba where he was born and in Venezuela where he now resides.
In 2008, Hernández-Güero decided that his graduation thesis at Cuba’s Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) would be a book entitled La Tercera Pata, with texts by journalists and writers censored. He collected writings by the poet Rafael Alcides, the former prisoner of the Black Spring Oscar Espinoza Chepe, and the narrator Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, among others.
That effort led him to knock on many doors and more than a few saw him as a provocateur. He wanted to show the national journalistic tradition that includes figures like Félix Varela and José Martí, a tradition that was broken when independent publications “were closed and then prohibited” and all that was left “in circulation were those belonging to the State.”
The ISA leadership did not like this character of inclusiveness. Hernández-Güero recalls that a month before the discussion of his thesis the dean summoned him along with his tutor, critic and curator Mailyn Machado, to inform him that the project had not been approved. He had only two options: to take the state test or to present a compendium of his artistic work.
He opted for the second choice and happened on the book project. On the day of the presentation, a convenient power outage occurred at ISA and his thesis “never had a real conclusion” even though he finished with the maximum of qualifications.
Hernández-Güero, born in 1983, is aware that much of his research and his artistic production “has a critical sense and a high socio-political content, which makes official institutions or those who lead them uncomfortable.”
The artist established residence in Venezuela and he travels frequently to Cuba, where he recently participated in a show at the Chaplin Cinema under the title Contamination, a part of the Festival of Young Filmmakers.
However, his stay outside Cuba has not freed him from censorship because he seeks to “annoy, disturb the viewer, not only with the art, but in the face of reality that is lived and thought.” Something that he knows “is often not welcome institutionally.”
Three years ago, his work At Fault, with a 23-foot bent over flagpole and the Venezuelan flag “hoisted” on the ground, was displayed in Ciudad Banesco during the FIA Youth Fair in Caracas. The piece was installed before the opening and organizers covered the flag with a black bag. The result resembled a covered corpse.
The piece caused so much turmoil in the social networks that finally they removed the flag and left only the bent over flagpole. “From that moment the work changed,” clarifies the artist and now the display of the work includes some of the tweets published during the process and “documentation of how they dismantled [the fabric].”
The whole media phenomenon and the condemnation was integrated into the work. Because the censorship, in the words of the artist, “is a boomerang that tries to hit who it is thrown at, but usually ends up hitting the thrower.”
He has had to deal with similar situations on several occasions and believes that censorship is an inseparable companion “when the work has as its research subject the great social taboos such as politics, power, religion, sexuality, pornography, among others.”
Hernandez-Güero’s work constantly questions power. Not only political power, but also “the symbolic power of visual images and conventions that are deposited in the social imaginary as indestructible, immovable or untouchable truths,” he explains.
In these circumstances he is always exposed to reprimands or warnings that end up “completing the work or expanding it to another plane,” often one unsuspected by the artist himself.
The most recent of his works takes the name Historical Coincidences and mixes, in the same image, portraits of great personalities who have assumed similar postures and attitudes before the camera, regardless of time, place or context.
Most are premeditated appearances, but in other cases it is an instant captured without any pose. His intention is to “demystify these figures” and to question “the perception of them in the historical and social imaginary.” The elaboration is simple: superimpose one face on another, which gives way to new faces and “other possible expressions, but unrecognizable, unknown by all.”
They are works with a great political content and, at the end of last year, five of the pieces of that series received prizes in the October Young Salon, at the Valencia Museum of Art.
Hernandez-Guerero does not prefer one medium over another. As for the new technologies, he believes that knowing them previously offers more possibilities to “know their potential.” Because the greater an artist’s arsenal, the more possibilities he will have to “navigate within the creation.”