The Menil's Richmond Hall presented contemporary photography from Cuba
(Mar.19-Apr.17). This "New Generation" no longer promotes the heroic
progress of the Revolution. Man and God both have suffered the fate of "El
periodo especial"- the special period, a time of hardship during Cuba's
downward economic freefall. Carlos Garaicoa dreams of architecture and
presents rough architectural drawings of hotels and highrises amidst the
crumbling streets. The church is abandoned for superstition; Juan Carlos Alom
talks of the spirit, but its altar now is the television; he talks of "Basil, Rue and
Rosemary" but none of those plants is in evidence. Marta Maria Perez finds
spirituality only within her own body as it undergoes the changes of pregnancy.
This may be a younger voice, but it is a disillusioned and not especially
experimental one. The imagery, even the ideas are old, as if borrowed from
some other show years ago. In addition to the economic constraints Cuba may
or may not suffer that limit the use of color photography, it also suffers from
years of censorship: creative energy becomes internalized and undernourished
as it feeds upon itself.
Straying a little far afield from Houston was "Re-Framing the Past: Recent
Work from Texas Women Photographers" at the Galveston Art Center (Mar.5-
Apr.10). Curator Jean Caslin gathered a divergent group into one basket. If
the exhibition did lean towards the victimization of women, it is the nature of
the times and it is the deliberate choice of these artists to confront without
flinching. This is wholly evident in Cara Catherine DeBusk's damning
indictments of psychological and sexual abuse perpetrated upon children.
These terrifying images, processed stills from film and video of her own
family, are untitled but essentially labeled "Mommy", "Daddy" etc. Xeroxed
and manipulated, they displace the happy family scene into a dysfunctional
hell. Alongside each is DeBusk's own face, distorted and smeared past
recognition in the contortions of pain, frozen as a witness. There is nothing
ambiguous in this raw exposure except where, exactly, the therapy stops
and the artifice begins.
Of a more reflective nature are the assemblages of Maggie Olvey; she deals
with the betrayal of her own body by cancer. Zinc etching plates, plastic
tubing, and photographic reproductions are all so carefully, exquisitely
combined that one is drawn into them as portraits of the self undergoing
sickness, treatment and the hope of healing. The most moving is a wooden
spine that is perhaps from a piece of furniture; wrapped in gauze, tidy and
elevated above eye level it becomes a loom weaving a reification of life.
Susan Kae Grant sets the most theatrical stage for life's traumas with rich
chromogenic color prints saturated greens and yellows, compelling and
absolutely lurid. Scottie Stapleton amuses us with her staged
representations of the occupations of Negro women: sharecropper, maid,
babysitter-and then, something isn't funny anymore. Although Stapleton is
the model, she isn't smiling. The initial impulse to chuckle is stilled very
quickly. Overall, "Re-Framing the Past" succeeds in its intent to engage the
intrigues of the past. In startling examinations and confrontations with
society, the family, and the self, it presents an aesthetic that does not waver,
and at times punches back. *
artl i e s REPORTS
Chandler, Wade & Schwab, Eric Jonah. Art Lies, Volume 2, May-June 1994. Houston, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228035/. Accessed March 5, 2015.