The 1990s seem to have changed the fate of Cuban photography. It was during this decade that a group of artists burst in and expanded the form away from solely documentary value. Born in Havana in 1966, Eduardo Hernández Santos is one of the most controversial members of this generation who has provided an authentic voice with authenticity, devotion and pain that cannot be feigned.
In many cases this is personal – homoerotic poetics which express his experiences; scenarios plagued by the precarious yet imbued with enigmatic hope, obstacles and bodies with pathologically sharp claws. There is a sense of perseverance which at times seems to surprise even the protagonist. Santos Hernández is aware that photography, unlike other artistic manifestations, leaves little room for ambiguity. Rather, it is a direct and poignant form of expression, appealing directly to individuals and their institutions.
We are faced with a decorous manner of capturing time; when the amalgamation of inner conflicts adopts external codes and ephemeral situations and eventually makes them carnal, transforming them in temples of the subjective and capable of transferring knowledge and intensity. In these cases, an inner voice speaks to us from a place where nothing can be postponed, call it vehemence, urgency or transgression. We have already observed this grave lyricism in spirits such as that of Jean Genet and Pier Paolo Pasolini, chronicles which eventually vindicate those who are “different.”
With the exhibition Homo–Ludens (1993), Eduardo Hernández Santos imposed upon himself an ambitious goal, a thorny and difficult path, but which also heralded a sincere and admirable way of advocating an aesthetic and conceptual future under very difficult circumstances, leaping over an everydayness that would usually lead to the rigor of disenchantment. Thus, the bodies depicted in his photographs entered a state of revelation, wholesome bodies, ready, cut like fruits or vegetables in order to provocatively enhance the most crucial aspects of their beauty.
There he unleashes a mystery frequently censored, in which we can perceive a candor, thus verifying that everything depends on what the viewer is looking at. But above all, a sort of intelligence prevails, a subtle way of expressing himself in the midst of scandal. A game with limits, figurines lurking like reincarnated Greek beings from an insular anguish, is perhaps the most admirable quality of this work, the emotional touch defined by an unexpected balance between delivery and meditation.
For Eduardo Hernández Santos (a graduate of the San Alejandro Art Academy in 1985, majoring in engraving and drawing, and of the Higher Institute of Art in 1990, majoring in engraving), the fact that he choose photography as his means of expression does not respond to superficial matters, but is rather the result of having grasped the potential of this form of expression, not only during the stage of documenting reality, but also in terms of its capacity to act with immediacy, dealing an accurate blow and creating a stronger and more direct suggestion, which ultimately involves both the work and the consumer.
Once established as a photographer, Santos at times has resorted to one of its variants, photo-collage, a medium which, according to Santos, gives him access to simultaneity, juxtaposition, overlapping, and particularly deconstruction, which has become a powerful weapon in his poetics. All this is moved by the seduction of conferring a new meaning to things, of passionately taking them apart only to reconstruct them from an intelligent perspective. Photo collage, used responsibly by Eduardo during the last decade, experienced a profound moment for creative intervention in his Fragmentos clásicos [Classic Fragments] 1998), in which the bodies of the models are removed (cut out) from their original habitat and relocated–clearly expressed in the title of the series–in classical scenarios that never tire of evoking the splendor of an increasingly distant antiquity.
The 21st century surprised the artist in the process of creating a wonderful series: A propósito, las flores [By the way, flowers] (2000). Each photographic composition reminds me of a written text. Each area of the body and each part of the flower question each other like voices unheard before, now clashing with each other, submerged. The dialogues are sheer friction, energy from the scrapings, readings which lie below this preconceptual crust that mutilates our freedom to choose.
The year 2002 sees the series Corpus-frágile, in which the body is no longer intact–how could it be when the range of the artist is apparently connected to a society that often breaks or cracks? They are telluric movements, at times painful, which longingly recover in the space of their representation. Consequently, we remain in the presence of bodies which have been intervened, metaphorized, and pursued by fragments of a different nature. At this point, he is harassed, submitted to the pressure of a guilt which is not his, but of his former tormentors who tried to make him vulnerable, to traverse or stigmatize him seeking to break his enormous spirit which he continues to exhibit with pride. In 2004, he exhibited “Strong” at La Casona gallery. In these photographs, the violence received by these bodies and the violence with which they respond is even greater. Here he exhibits a profound humanity, a tear, an aggression which transcends the conflict of gender and sexual orientation, and shows us a completely alienated world that stalks us.
Turning back the clock a few years, I would also like to highlight Espejismos [Mirages] (1999), an extremely disturbing collection of great semantic wealth. Cohabited by bitterness and humor in total estrangement, it depicts an oneiric atmosphere of tasteful density, initially lavishing silence and later, perhaps, a stream of echoes that were once powerful sounds of languages lost in the environs of dreams and wakefulness. It seems that during this period, Santos Hernández developed the gift of taking objects and their meanings apart in pursuit of a different future. This is a skill that, luckily, stems from the gut. And after a lucid interlude, it has continued to grow, gradually taking over practically all of his production during the last decade.
His exhibition Palabras [Words] (2008) stands out clearly exceeding the established limits of male aesthetics and moving into the densely tangled maze of politics. On this platform, disassembling meanings retains a vitality that gradually becomes the guiding spirit of the close relationship perceived in all of his work, which are ready to address, after being “resurrected,” the seriousness of a phenomenon which has long governed even our own privacy. From Palabras, I cannot hide my preference for Masa cárnica [Meat Mass], which ends up being an odd ensemble of “Our Havana” made up of bodies without removing their nutrients or their wastes.
The project El muro [The Wall] (2005) can be construed as a moment of true splendor in the work of Santos Hernández. Here, the protagonists are clothed, representing characters typical of Havana’s night life, which has changed as much as the nation, although an attempt has been made to subdue it in a discourse that is seeming to become inadequate in the face of the thrust of beings who have decided to defend their space with their teeth if need be, or simply with the authenticity of their attire. El muro is a chronicle which exposes this conquered territory from the very entrails of the beings inscribed within it; a testimony that adheres to a powerful textuality represented here by relevant excerpts from Virgilio Piñera’s poem La isla en peso [The Entire Island].
The discomfort and frustrations that our insularity is capable of generating and the role played by the famous Malecón Wall in all this plot is highlighted in each of Virgilio’s verses, corrosive and agile, ready to make the images even more unvarnished. It is said that there is a place that can be used as a barometer to measure life in Cuba, of our most direct contact with the horizon, the stretch in the city where scandal occurs in the form of a simple mutation. In these cubicles recreated from delirium, there is no place for one or another decree, or for dubious institutional tolerance. What persists behind every picture is “damned circumstance of being surrounded by water.”