by Jed Dodds
As the group of three artists from Havana known as Stainless open their exhibition at The Studios of Key West, it will inevitably be seen against the backdrop of shifting US-Cuban relations, and misconceptions born out of a half century cut off from one another. It’s likely to be a shock.
For one, the sex. Far from the dour Soviet state one might imagine, Cuba remains incredibly sexualized, with few of the hangups that other cultures bring to the table. Second, the politics. The undeniable limits on free speech and assembly in Cuba don’t prevent Stainless – and many if not most of their peers – from obsessing openly about politics, and critiquing the State through the thinnest of veils. Lastly – what comes through most clearly of all – is that these three artists are unapologetically having the time of their lives.
Alejandro Pineiro Bello, Jose Gabriel Capaz and Roberto Fabelo Hung have been making work together under the name Stainless since 2010, when they met at Havana’s renowned San Alejandro Academy of Fine Art. Their basic recipe is this: mix equal parts sex and politics (okay, maybe a little extra sex), add a healthy dose of bravado and a dollop of provocation, and you get… cake!
The cake is the alchemical connector of it all: sensual, hyped up with sugar, oozing with icing and just as absurd as it is irresistible. The word for cake in Spanish is pastel, which is also slang for orgy. Swirls of “icing” made of color-infused resin work equally well to depict a riot of pornography or a model of the “Capitolio,” Havana’s famously useless replica of the US Capital building. It’s tempting just to lick it, and they’ve provided tongues for that too – 250 of them, cast in bubble gum pink resin from cows’ tongues they buy at the street market.
Stainless shows little interest in putting limits or structure on their ambition or imagination. They wield their tongues like floppy swords against the pompous inefficiencies of Cuban socialism, but also skewer the universe of capitalism, with a nighttime sky made of 10,000 corporate logos. With a wink in their eye and a disarming grin, they suggest a third way, replacing empty slogans or corporate spreadsheets with raw sensuality, and dollars and CUC’s (Cuba’s convertible currency, pronounced “kooks”) with sugar as a measure of currency.
And why should they limit themselves? Stainless is riding a wave of white hot interest in Cuban art, which is bound to grow as the country opens up. From here, they travel to New York City, where they are scheduled to take over all the billboards in Times Square for a night. It’s going to be sweet.
Stainless: One Chaotic Mind/Una Mente Caotica, February 5 – February 26, Studios of Key West