In his exhibition at the Galerie Barbara Thumm, featuring works from 2015 to 2018, Diango Hernández dedicates himself to the dynamic power of the imagination that is inextricably linked to the perception of recorded events.
Based on the historical developments in his home country Cuba, he investigates the possible readings of history, and how their static interpretations can be dissolved through poetry and visual metaphors, transforming them into individual memories.
The understanding of history as a poetic image, in which imaginary gestures and emotional states create an altered experience of reality, is a key topic in the works of José Lezama Lima (1910–1976), one of modern Cuban literature’s most important poets. Diango Hernández has been studying Lezama Lima’s embodied, associative language in the essay volume Las Eras Imaginarias (1971) for several years, and it became a source of inspiration for his most recent paintings from the group of works entitled Waves paintings (since 2015). His interest focuses on Lezama Lima’s verbal images, which often only become tangible in the moment of their evocation, interweaving ideas and allegories from very different cultures. Lezama Lima’s concept of imagination understood past times as “imaginary epochs” and pointed to the infinite possibilities (“posibilidad infinita”) both of the Caribbean self- perception and of cultural togetherness as such.
In his new paintings, Diango Hernández translates excerpts from José Lezama Lima’s poetry into his own artistic language of wave lines, which become detached from the words’ semantic meaning, retaining only their formal units of length. In doing so, the lines free themselves from the graphic sentence structure and become rhythmic compositions, creating an interwoven, vibrating image. As abstract poems, they encompass and translate intuitive memory: their colourfulness and contours conjure up the sensual impressions of the Caribbean landscape, ocean, animals, fruits and plant world. However, their gaiety is repeatedly fractured by the grid of the waves, which indicates the rational level of linguistic structuring and thus the ability to produce ideological constructs.
In combination with his own paintings, Diango Hernández will be exhibiting 20 framed drawings by the Cuban painter Augusto García Menocal (1899–1974), who came from a family of independence fighters against Spain and was honorary professor of the oldest art academy in Havana as an important representative of academic art from 1920 on. These drawings belong to Hernández’ family and form part of the artist’s personal collection of paintings, artefacts and documents reflecting his own memories of Cuba. Menocal’s studies give an encyclopaedic account of the styles of various cultures across the globe, showing figures with imaginary dresses and in imagined attitudes. In presenting these sketches, Hernández draws attention to the changeable readings of history in which historical facts are interpreted through fictional elements and passed on to the next generation. This also applies to the famous painting No quiero ir al cielo (1930) by Augusto García Menocal in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, which shows Hatuey, the leader of the 1511/1512 indigenous resistance in Cuba shortly before his execution by the Spanish. Since then, this indigenous leader – a symbol for the history of the colonisation of the Caribbean islands – has been appropriated as a hero of rebellion and revolution for a range of different political ends and made the subject of further narratives.
Similarly/Likewise in works such as Hurricanes (2013), Mother we’ve got another open letter (2016) and Dos Hojas (2016), which record the alternating movement between dissolution, fluidity and conservation in abstract forms, Diango Hernández picks up various threads of the experience of history as an imaginary construction. History can never be unambiguously verified or read in a one-dimensional way. Instead, the artist refers to past trajectories of time as dynamic fields of memory that are able to influence and shape the present, and thus identities, afresh.
Simone NeuenschwanderCourtesy the artist and Galerie Barbara Thumm. Photo: Jens Ziehe