Art as resistance

The fourth edition of « Face to Face / Cara á Cara » – a series of encounters between Cuban and foreign culture – brings together, from September 11 to October 10, 2021, Roberto Diago (Havana, 1971) and Ernest Pignon-Ernest (Nice, 1942), which works have in common the denunciation of racism through their works.

It is hard to believe that in a country like Cuba, where 45% of the population is composed of blacks and mulattoes, there are still problems of racial discrimination. Roberto Diago, one of the major artists of the Cuban contemporary scene, received the legendary influence of a generation of important black musicians and artists of Cuba, some of them, founders of musical genres and others, avant-garde of the pictorial modernism, such as his grandfather, the painter Roberto Diago Querol.

In Roberto Diago’s installations, photographs, figurative and abstract paintings, the same themes are found: race relations throughout history, inequality and discrimination suffered by black people. Roberto Diago uses and experiments with materials such as iron, wood, rope, burlap, or the fabric used in Cuba to dress Afro-Cuban religious deities, and elements extracted from everyday life that give his works a strong symbolic charge.

In a 2019 interview with Gilbert Brownstone, (Art in Cuba, Editions Flammarion) Roberto Diago talks about his approach like this:

« Art has a multiple role. It depends on the artist, on the human being that one carries in oneself. I am part of the artists who through their art engage in collective events. I interpret a history, a heritage, in my case that of the black man and slavery. For me it is racism which is one of the worst evils of humanity and which unfortunately like a virus mutates and takes multiple and new forms… It touches me closely. I would call it an art of struggle… It is a way of shouting, of imposing myself in the face of injustice, of continuing to produce so that other generations can live a better world. And yes I believe it is possible. « 

Ernest Pignon-Ernest since the late sixties has been spreading images around the world that evoke historical events and figures. His ephemeral works, life-size serigraphs, which adorn the walls of cities echo events or historical figures. His commitment to the Apartheid regime in South Africa since 1974 has propelled him to the forefront of the international scene. Injustice, inequality, exclusion and racism are also recurring themes in his work, whether he is working in Haiti, Palestine, France, Italy or Africa.

« Nothing forced me to be particularly interested in South Africa, but in 1974, Nice, a cosmopolitan city, twinned with Cape Town. A few months earlier, the United Nations had declared Apartheid a crime against humanity. For me, the grandson of Italian immigrants, this twinning was a betrayal of the history of our city, which had welcomed Apollinaire and Romain Gary. I reacted as I always do with collages and flooded the city with hundreds of images representing a black family behind barbed wire. It all showed what was unjust and criminal, what was a denial of humanity in that union. »

The solo exhibition devoted to him by the Galerie Lelong in Paris from September 9 to October 23, 2021, in parallel with this Face to Face with Roberto Diago at the Brownstone Foundation, presents the latest work of Ernest Pignon-Ernest carried out in Haiti about Jacques Stephen Alexis (1922-1961): « I discovered his writing and his destiny, which combine to make him one of those figures, like Mahmoud Darwich, Neruda or Pasolini, who embody their time, their community, their people, its history and their aspirations.