Sandra Ceballos: In peace as well as in (post)war

The history of the Aglutinador space.

There could hardly be another Cuban artist in the field of visual arts in recent decades whose work resembles that of Sandra Ceballos. We are not referring to her most personal creation – drawing, painting, installations, performances – but rather to her artistic work in the broadest sense, as a curator, editor, promoter, agent, gallery worker, art activist….

For those who are not abreast of the intricate accounts and correlates of that universe it is an unknown history. Because Sandra Ceballos was in the group of artists who had an impact on the Cuban artistic panorama of the 1980s, it was not by chance that her work is represented in the National Museum, but in the mid-1990s her name disappeared. However, precisely starting then her figure has multiplied, with the birth of Aglutinador in 1994. But what is Aglutinador?

 

According to its founders, “Aglutinador aims to show and spread the work of Cuban artists of all sects – be they alive or dead, residing in or outside Cuba, young or old, well-known or unknown, promoted or almost forgotten, modest or pedantic – as long as they have unquestionable quality, and above all, that necessary dose of honesty and sense of unease in the face of creation, proper of true art.

 

“Aglutinador is not a cultural space; it is not a boutique or a foundation. It does not aim to be elitist or avant-garde, populist or passerby, it wants to be (or get to be) fair. Its only commitment is with art.”1

 

With this charge of self-assurance and irreverence in tune with the avant-garde manifestos, the Aglutinador space was born more than 20 years ago in the home-studio of Sandra Ceballos, on 25 and 6, Vedado. What its creators (Sandra and Ezequiel Suárez) surely never imagined was that it would remain active for so long, a long period in which it would be a cultural space legitimated by numerous actions and presences.

 

During all these years of obstinate persistence, Aglutinador has traveled a long road, sowed and cultivated by the talent of many, where collaboration, support, solidarity, friendship has always been present, as well as the difficulties, the barriers. About that we are now talking with Sandra, the warrior, the guardian of the wheat field.

 

Sandra, how and in what circumstances did Aglutinador emerge?

 

It emerged based on talks Ezequiel and I had with artists at that time (1994) about censorship, about what was happening, for example, with the Proyecto G, with Angel Delgado who was imprisoned, with a series of things. We spoke about the existence of a space of tolerance, even if it were private, where works could be exhibited without the harassment of the officials.

 

As it happens, I was curating an exhibit by Ezequiel, for the 12 and 23 gallery, that was called “El frente Bauhaus,” which was censored and its inauguration banned. We picked everything up and we had the exhibit here.

 

With what budget did you start, how was the beginning?

 

Actually, we didn’t have a budget, a concept, we didn’t have anything structured about what we wanted to do. It was simply a response to censorship. That first exhibit was done because of the need for those works of “El frente Bauhaus” to be exhibited and to not accept the censorship.

 

For the inauguration we invited Alejandro López to a performance, we organized a party, a lot of people came, many artists, and everything was very spontaneous, very festive. After that we started thinking, Ezequiel and I, that we were a couple in life and we said, well let’s open more exhibits. There are many artists who are isolated, forgotten, and they practically don’t exist for the institutions. Let’s continue that line of work.

 

The idea was not to discriminate against those who were promoted by the official institutions, because we would be doing the same. The aim was to gather, to agglutinate everything that was good, independently of age, religious belief, politics, sex or country. We were the first to exhibit the Cubans of the diaspora. That’s why I had the idea of calling the space Aglutinador.

 

That’s how we started the exhibits by artists who had spent time without exhibiting, like Chago Armada; or Glexis Novoa, who was in exile; or Marta María Pérez, who was working abroad. Others as well, like Angel Delgado, Alberto Casado, Bernardo Sarría, Benito Ortiz, Colette Rodríguez, Carlos Garaicoa, Cleva Solís, among many others. Those were the beginnings, in 1994, 1995 and 1996.

 

That must have involved a considerable amount of work and resources. How were you able to do it?

 

The artists backed us a great deal, and we also had the fundamental support of art critic Orlando Hernández. He formed part of the curatorship team during the first two years. Gerardo Mosquera was also an important pillar at the beginning. Other artists supported us through donations, like Roberto Fabelo, who gave us a financial donation to print Chago Armada’s catalog.

 

And how did the space continue? What would you highlight as most important?

 

My work as curator in Aglutinador has been parallel to my artistic work. It has been somewhat difficult, but it has been done. Between 1994 and 1995 I shared the curatorship with Ezequiel and Orlando Hernández; until 1999 I was accompanied by Ezequiel; from 2000 to 2004 by René Quintana; and from then on I have been alone.

 

We have had several stages. We had one that was the most radical starting 2003, 2004, with a big project I named Aglutinador-Laboratorio. Exhibits were held with specific themes, without pressure in terms of curatorship, like a very important one in 2008 that was called “Curadores, go home!”

 

That was an exhibit by convocation and everyone who wanted to could participate, even if they were not artists they could come and place their work. It was a sort of experiment within that stage. At that time I was already working on my own and I assumed that project as part of my personal work. They were my ideas, illustrated by the artists’ exhibits.

 

“Curadores, go home!” was attacked by the National Council of Visual Arts (CNAP) because a concert by Porno para Ricardo was programmed for the inauguration and the CNAP circulated a note where it said that it was incredible that I would organize an exhibit where those dissidents were going to play.

 

Then they put pressure on the artists so they wouldn’t come to the inauguration. I postponed the date, but I did make it, although without the concert. Artists from the display participated with their works in the exhibit, despite the fact that they were coerced to not do so. All of them came with a single exception.

 

Another important expo in the stage of Aglutinador-Laboratorio, in 2008, was the first Porno Art Biennial. It was made by convocation and 42 artists participated, between Cubans and foreigners. The idea was not to defend pornography, but rather the right to consume it. It was a metaphor about the right to choose.

 

The aim wasn’t to make erotic art, but rather porno art. The event awoke a great deal of interest and had an international character. Many nuances of pornography were exhibited, with a predominance of humor. And the entire barrio came. It was an event. Since the people did not fit inside my home, the street filled to the point that cars couldn’t pass.

 

How do you define your last project, Malditos de la posguerra?

 

I consider Malditos de la posguerra as part of my work, it’s like a summary of all these years, it’s my way of seeing what has happened after 1959 to date with a large group of artists, and it is my way of doing them justice, because generations and generations come that graduate from art schools and don’t have the slightest idea of what had happened in Cuban art.

 

The history of post 1959 contemporary Cuban art is not correctly imparted. It only includes what’s in the Museum of Fine Arts. But there are many works of the Museum’s storerooms that are not exhibited in the permanent halls; others, that are there, but they are not spoken about in the schools.

 

We also have events, like that of Antonia Eiriz, who stopped painting in her best moment and didn’t do it again until the end of her days, or the censorship there was during the 1960s and 1970s with erotic art done by Umberto Peña, Servando Cabrera and Chago Armada.

 

An important number of artists emigrated abroad, but those who stayed abruptly stopped and replaced their previous themes and expressive forms with others, which is the case of Servando, who started painting “Habaneras,” “Macheteros” or Raúl Martínez who abandoned his abstract expressionism – which was not illustrative of the revolutionary processes of the time – for portraits of Martí and other leaders. Some artists (of those who stayed) had to abandon their path in painting and devoted themselves to designing magazines, books, newspapers and posters.

 

The conceptual sustenance of the project is to document, but it does not exclude works. Documentation is on exhibit, history is done, so that part that is not taught in the schools doesn’t die, so that it doesn’t disappear.

 

Up to now what have been the exhibits of Malditos de la posguerra in Aglutinador?

 

Malditos de la posguerra began the exhibitions with “1988-89, proyecto G.” They were kids who did performances in the 23and G park, on 23 Street and several points of the city, whose leader was artist Juan Sí González. They did public interventions during the same time as Arte Calle.

 

The display “OMNI-Zona Franca” came later: a necessary art, with a representation of that diverse and heterogeneous group of writers and artists, who, since the late 1990s and for more than a decade, based on their Community Project in the Alamar House of Culture, irradiated their work throughout the city, toward other provinces, and even abroad.

 

We are currently exhibiting “Crónicas y evidencias” which brings together the interdisciplinary artists Alberto Casado and Angel Delgado, who were among the first to go through Aglutinador in its first years. Casado, who is a visual reporter, represented at that time, 1996, a performance done by Angel the collective display “El objeto esculturado,” among other events and actions. The latter offered, among his testimonies, the drawings he did while in prison. Twenty years later, they still persist in documenting the past. (2017)

 

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[1] Text that appears on the back of the catalogs of Aglutinador, written by Ezequiel Suárez and Sandra Ceballos toward 1994 (sic), reproduced in: Sandra Ceballos: “Aglutinador, un lugar de emergencia, 1994-2004”, Espacio Aglutinador, Prince Claus Foundation, 2005, pp. 8-14.

 

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