Interview: Juan Roberto Diago and Alejandro de la Fuente

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On view at Harvard University’s Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art is the exhibition “Diago: The Pasts of This Afro-Cuban Present.” [See previous posts Shadows of Cuba’s Past and Art Exhibition: Diago: The Past of This Afro-Cuban Present.] Cuban Art News interviewed artist Juan Roberto Diago and the show’s curator, Alejandro de la Fuente, who both answered questions about the exhibition. Here are a few excerpts; see full interview at Cuban Art News.

Cuban Art News (CAN): How would you describe the exhibition?

Juan Roberto Diago: I would define it as an encounter with everything I’ve done up to this moment.

Alejandro de la Fuente: This is Diago’s first retrospective exhibition, a look at his first two decades of creative work. Even though his career is still young, he has gone through several different periods, in which his artistic language and the materials he used have changed.

CAN: How were the works chosen for the exhibition?

JRD: We tried to search out a logic that carried forward from the beginning–a group of works that articulated my creative development from the start.

AF: Selection was based on two main criteria. First, that visitors could see how Diago’s work has evolved since the mid-1990s, and the variety of formats and materials that he’s has used. Second, I selected pieces that, despite their diversity, highlighted the central themes of his work—especially his interest in writing a history based on the experiences of Afrodescendants, in Cuba and the world.

CAN: Are there some works that were essential to include? Why?

JRD: Some works were marked for inclusion from the start, to demonstrate the use of certain materials that have been part of my output up to the present.

AF: Yes, definitely. Some key works, from key periods, had to be in the exhibition. For instance, I thought it was important to include Paisaje I (1995), to provide a sort of chronological and formal baseline to the whole exhibition. I wanted to illustrate his early debt to Basquiat, and Grito (1997) was a superb example of this influence and of his raw anger. I knew also that we had to showcase some of the important works that he produced at the turn of the century, when his creativity coalesced into a body of work of unparalleled strength and excellence.

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Here the problem was one of abundance: there was much to choose from. I wanted to include Mi Historia es tu Historia (2000), because it encapsulates Diago’s history-rewriting efforts. But I also wanted to include pieces where Africa is deployed as a reservoir of cultural sustenance, community and resistance, as in Aché pa’ los míos (1999).

It was important to include some of his polemic light boxes, which some critics have understood as a turn away from the belligerence of previous works. The installation Ciudad en Ascenso (2010), originally produced at the Mattress Factory museum in Pittsburgh for Queloides, allows me to explore another genre, as well as Diago’s growing attention to issues of urban poverty and marginality. [. . .]

[Images above: 1) Juan Roberto Diago during the installation of “Diago: The Pasts of This Afro-Cuban Present” at the Cooper Gallery of Harvard University; 2) Juan Roberto Diago, Mi historia es tu historia. Courtesy Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art, Harvard University. Source: http://www.cubanartnews.org/news/preview-juan-roberto-diago-at-harvard/5885.]

For full interview, see http://www.cubanartnews.org/news/preview-juan-roberto-diago-at-harvard/5885

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