Hamlet Lavastida: An anthropologist of The Lie
I met Hamlet Lavastida almost twenty years ago, when he was still a student of fine arts at the San Alejandro Academy, soon after he entered the Instituto Superior de Arte and the Cátedra de Arte Conducta, led by the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera. These three elite institutions of the Cuban artistic campus undoubtedly influenced what was already a questioning and iconoclastic spirit, but his true passion, his interest in investigating Cuba’s unofficial history and politics, is something that appeared quite early; one could say that it’s a “merit” of his own. The “merit,” that honor in the Real Socialism, can quickly become a “problem.” A bad phrase, a misunderstanding, is enough to gain the aversion of Power, to roll downhill from the top of the high pyramid of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
In almost twenty years of practice, Lavastida has given himself the task of searching, collecting and recomposing the history of the early years of the Cuban Revolution, that is, the decades of the 60s and the 70s, those of the political, social and cultural programmatic that would end up defining the present-day Cuban nation. The hidden political struggles, dissidences, ideological diversionism1, parametrization2, the period known as “gray quinquennium”3 in the ’70s, are part of that Real but Unwritten and Unrecognized History. Let Galileo Galilei explain it.
The search for Truth is a modern concept, although fallen into disuse and radically questioned by post-modernism. Perhaps Lavastida is one of those last romantics, an idealist who nonetheless uses discursive strategies of the present, performance, graffiti, stencils, video-animation, pastiche, and cut-and-paste aesthetics to reconstruct a fragmented memory, an a priori unreliable history because it does not recognize official power. He uses its own sources, collects its mistakes like someone who collects valuable crystals, then cleans them and shows them to the public.
His work is that of an anthropologist of the lie, which starts from the Sacred Texts (the laws, manuals, magazines, reports of the conferences and plenary sessions of the Communist Party) that were published at the time in representation of the Absolute Truth and then fallen into oblivion—or even concealed ex professo—for having expired its precepts, for having disgraced its heroes, for embracing, in short, proofs of incoherence.
With his practice, the artist becomes a fictional witness because his youth prevents him from having been a real witness. But his interest in the past leads him to scrutinize the oral and written memory in search of those uncomfortable, biased fragments of the Official History. And you cannot talk about the Past without the Present. These days, analyzing these failures and political gaps helps us to understand what is happening to us, where we are going, what we still have to endure.
– Lillebit Fadraga
1 The expression “ideological diversionism” was employed in Cuba mainly in the 70s for refer to any idea, attitude or thought that would not strictly fit the politico-ideological guidelines of the revolutionary project. From having long hair or wearing clothing and accessories associated with punk-rock culture, listening to the Beatles or any rock in general, reading foreign magazines, all of this could be considered sign of dissent, and thus harm the rest of the population, and had to be combated.
2 The “parameterization” would become these aforementioned guidelines for judging the intellectuality according to what had to be and not to be done/heard/said… For an in depth study see: Espinosa, Norge “Las máscaras de la grisura: Teatro, silencio y política cultural en la Cuba de los ’70” En Espinosa, Norge. Escenarios que arden. Ed. Letras Cubanas, 2012.
3 The expression “The Five Year Period” was coined by the cuban intellectual Ambrosio Fornet to refer to a change in the implementation of the cultural politic in Cuba at the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s. For an exhaustive analysis see Fornet, Ambrosio “El Quinquenio Gris: revisitando el término” En Revista Casa de las Américas, No. 246, enero-marzo 2007, p.p.3-16
Hamlet Lavastida (Havana, 1983) attended the San Alejandro National Academy of Fine Arts (Havana, 1998-2002) and the Superior Institute of Art (Havana, 2003-2009), as well as the Behavior Art School (Havana, 2004-2006). His work has been presented in exhibitions such as, Iconocracia, ARTIUM, Basque Museum-Centre of Contemporary Art, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain (2015); Politics: I don’t like it but it likes me, Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art, Gdansk, Poland (2013); Touched, Liverpool Biennial 2010, Liverpool, UK (2010); Curadores, Go Home!, Espacio Aglutinador, Havana, Cuba (2008); Behavior Art School, 7th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, Sourth Korea (2008). He has also participated in residency programs such as, A-I-R Laboratory, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland (2012) and Residencia PERRO Aglutinador-Laboratorio, Havana, Cuba (2008).
His work is currently focused on certain notions of the ideological language within the Cuban context. Questions of cultural politics, design, public sphere, archeology and historiography are approached using a variety of disciplines such as video, collage, performance, public intervention and installation.
This project is part of
Montréal ~ Habana : Rencontres en art actuel / Encuentros de arte contemporáneo