Cuban artist José Toirac’s work exhibited in Miami

artwithoutwalls, a new non-profit arts organization, will present “José Toirac: Censure and Celebration in Cuba” at the PULSE art fair in Miami, December 3 through 6. The exhibition draws from Toirac’s most ambitious bodies of work to date. Making its public debut, the censored series 1869-2006, created in collaboration with art historian Meira Marrero, appropriates images from news media and historical texts to represent all the men who have held the office of governor or president of Cuba from the time of the first insurgency against the Spanish in 1869 to the present. This pantheon of campaign-like portraits illuminates 137 years of Cuban history, while highlighting a range of issues, including the subjectivity of history and the governmental control of information, and the complex relationship between Cuba and the United States. 1869-2006 incorporates 40 works—portraits of 39 leaders displayed in chronological order from Carlos Manuel de Céspedes del Castillo to Raul Castro. Also included is American president Howard Taft, who governed Cuba briefly during an internal revolt that occurred when Taft was U.S. Secretary of War. The series concludes with a single nail without a portrait suspended from it, raising the question of who will govern Cuba next. Such provocative ambiguity animates all of Toirac’s work. “My art,” he explains, “explores the whole gamut of the yes and the no, and the pros and the cons of socialism.”
The exhibition will also feature a selection of ten works from the 2007/2009 series, “Orbis: Homenaje a Walker Evans”, which was exhibited at the National Fine Arts Museum in Havana in lieu of Toirac’s censored work. Also a collaboration between Marrero and Toirac, the series includes 74 mixed-media pieces based on images taken in Cuba by American photographer Walker Evans in 1933. Executed in acrylic on wood, the works are accented with gold leaf from Seville, Spain—the port city which received gold from the Americas during the period of Spanish colonial rule.

The five-minute video work ‘Opus’ (2005) is based on a speech given by Fidel Castro in 2003 at La Plaza de la Revolución in Havana. The audience hears an audio track of the speech edited to include only the numbers that Castro spoke. Simultaneously, the digits corresponding to those numbers appear in white on a black screen. “In ‘Opus, Toirac reduces Castro’s verbose ramblings to numbers referencing the fixation of politicians with quantification, the reduction of individuals to numbers, and evoking accounts of both loss and accumulation,” said Stites.
Also on view will be paintings from 2001, entitled “A Brief History of Cuba as Told by Other Things”, in which Toirac appropriates historic Cuban photographs or images from the media, integrating logos for Western commercial brands to create charged juxtapositions between politics, history, religion, and consumer culture.

Toirac was born in Guantanamo, Cuba in 1966. The artist’s work has been exhibited internationally in North and South America, Europe, and Asia, in exhibitions including “The American Effect” at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (2003), and “New to the Modern: Recent Acquisitions from the Department of Drawings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York” (2001). Toirac’s work has also been recently featured in: “All’s Fair in Art and War” at 21c Museum in Louisville, KY (2009); the 7th Gwangju Biennale in Gwangju, Korea (2008); and “¡CUBA! Art and History from 1868 to Today” at the Museé des Beux Arts de Montréal in Québec, Canada (2008). His work is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museé des Beaux-Arts de Montréal in Québec, and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, among many other institutions.

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