February 23, 2017 (Thursday)

by Yule Heibel on February 22, 2018

Perhaps the key to a kind of wisdom is understanding that it’s not such a great thing to think, “There’s so much I want to do,” but rather understanding that it’s better when you feel, fully, that “There’s one thing I want to do,” and to let many – should it turn out that way – flow from one. But not vice versa.

My goodness. Is this a banality, or what? But sometimes it’s just the case that an old old insight has to be felt as though it were new or original…

Yesterday was a great day. We drove into Cambridge at 1pm and visited HAM, after which (first stopping at Tatte for some overpriced and frankly stale treats) we saw an amazing exhibition at the Cooper Gallery for African and African-American Art: work by Juan Roberto Diago. Diago is a black Cuban who came of age as an artist when Cuba’s economy collapsed in the wake of US-imposed sanctions. When the economy tanked, he learned that Cuba was, contrary to Castro’s dictum, deeply racist: blacks were at the bottom of the greasy pole. He had to make do with art materials that weren’t: trash, auto paint (iirc), cast-offs, junk fabric(s), etc., and out of this he created a commentary and oeuvre which embodies the realities of being a black person –with an African and slave history – in Cuba. There’s a focus on scarring and bodily harm, sometimes juxtaposed to safety, which for me culminated (in terms of effectiveness) in a near abstract-conceptual piece called Keloid. Made of braided off-white cotton scraps of cloth (braided like African hair, but also like chains), it’s about five inches high, mounted at eye-level, and runs along a (black) wall for a length of probably eight feet. Very effective.

We all liked this work so much more than HAM’s Doris Salcedo (even though I had liked it when I first saw it a while back). I tried explaining it to E., but both the Salcedo show as well as the Drawing show in the next rooms (a teaching exhibition organized by E.L.-B.) rely heavily on outside interpretation, wall plaques, and explanation. Diago’s Keloid, in contrast, wasn’t explained in any way, but it was visually forceful enough to convey scarring, chaining, roping, constraints, torture – sublimated into this nonetheless aesthetically compelling object. E. really disliked all the explainers and wall plaque verbiage, especially in the Salcedo exhibition, which she felt was quite dull without its accompanying exegesis. And then, as we rounded out of the Flor room with its carpet of rose petals back into the Chair room on our way to the Silk-and-Needle Blouses room (which we agreed were the most evocative of the show), I saw the curator, M., in the middle of a small group of – what?, students? – intently explaining whatever (probably interstitial spaces of something). I should have said hello, but she seemed so intensely focused on her tutorial, and I suddenly felt – or rather, was vaguely reminded, for I didn’t feel it deeply or in any kind of unbalancing way – my relative “inferiority” to this stylized persona of a “professional” woman, her wealth, social position, and connections, the perfect art professional, that I backed off, instinctively.

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