Yornel Martínez: Situating Cuban Art

Part 2/2

How does collaboration shape artistic praxis? In our second part of the talk with Yornel Martínez the artist expands upon the different potentials of collaboration: as an act of political resistance as well as an artistic tool. In his work the artist reveals the interferences between the two.

Zu sehen ist eine kleine Auswahl an Büchern aus dem Eigenverlag Ediciones*. Sie liegen auf einem hellen Untergrund und haben weiße Cover. mit schwarzen Lettern oder Bildern.

Ediciones*, Independent publishing label, since 2015

LG: Collaboration seems to be an important working method for you. How do you decide what to publish?

YM: Ediciones* is the result of an ongoing dialogue between different artists, curators, designers, poets and publishers with the intention of generating new ways of relating to the reader. That way, we create different circulation networks of dissemination and spaces of encounter. Ediciones* works as a collaborative initiative and seeks to give visibility to its productions through self-management.

Beyond the publishing work, collaboration is essential to me. For example, I worked with the experimental theatre group El Ciervo Encantado, directed by Nelda Castillo, for several years. It has been crucial for my working process to create networks of affinity, complicity, and affection. This has enriched the poetic intersections that exist between those who develop their work in other fields and the vision I have as an artist.

LG: The Ediciones* project is based on a non-commercial approach. How is the project financed?

YM: The publication of Ediciones* does not represent a business in monetary terms, but a strategy of artistic communication, a different way of working and putting into play non-commercial subjectivities concretized in publishing projects. 

Ediciones Asterisco, independent editorial project, funded by Yornel Martínez Elías, 2015

LG: The term ‘anti-copyright’ caught my attention. What do you mean by it and why did you decide to use it on P-350?

YM: It refers to distribution. It was a whole issue related to the control of information circulating freely in Cuba, also imposing a regulation on the publishing market. We wanted to use self-publishing methods like Samizdat in Russian underground literature, which at that time became a form of political rebellion and uncensored expression. Although the term refers specifically to the Soviet period, especially after Stalin’s death in 1953, underground publishing had a long tradition in Russia.

With P-350, we were interested in working outside commercial imperatives, and it emerged as a publishing space in the broadest sense, expanding the graphic and artistic possibilities of the physical format to the maximum. Before becoming a publishing project, it was a gesture that was consolidated through the interactions that the project’s presentations evoke. They become a place of conviviality where dialogue on various topics and interaction with the publication are encouraged, creating networks of relationships and exchanges. 

International Art World

Derivations, contextual activations in the studio of Yornel Martínez. Havanna, Cuba. 2021-2022. Foto: Irving Alfaro

LG: As a Cuban artist working internationally, what is your perception of Cuban art outside of Cuba?

YM: Today it is impossible to talk about Cuban culture without taking into account the cultural production of the diaspora. This also characterizes the dynamics of contemporary art. When we talk about Cuban art, there are many readings that refer to the inside and the outside, to artists who live on the island and those who are no longer there, to those who were not even born in Cuba because they are second generation, and so on.

Undoubtedly, we are participating in a de-territorialized geopolitical representation of what is Cuban beyond the closed, endogamic framework of the island. At this stage of a ‘new world order’, nationalities and localisms are disintegrating under the domination of global communication networks on an international scale, of diaspora and exile. To tell the truth: there are few signs that authenticate ‘Cubanness’ as a seal of identity. There are already many artists of Cuban origin living in Mexico City, Miami, Berlin, Havana, or Madrid.

I would dare to say, once again, that there is no such thing as Cuban art. Paradoxically, such a statement does not irrefutably mean that ‘Cuban art does not exist’—what it means as a nominal proposition is that ‘it does not exist as it used to be’ or as it was recorded in the historiography 25 years ago. The identity traits that defined the so-called New Cuban art were quite clear and could be reduced to three or four directions, according to the critics. These traits or characteristics are now dispersed. We are participating in a world where almost no one is interested in associating art with geographical adjectives unless it is a new market strategy. On the other hand, Cuban art, or at least what used to be considered ‘Cuban art’, is no longer fashionable in the legitimizing circles of contemporary art.

With documenta fifteen, Cuban art has received a new level of attention. The collective INSTAR (Instituto de Artivismo Hannah Arendt), founded by the artist Tania Bruguera, has invited numerous Cuban artists to participate in events and temporary exhibitions in Kassel. This invitation to INSTAR came at a critical time when Cuban artists, journalists and intellectuals where responding to the Cuban regime’s crackdown on freedom of artistic expression with specific demands.

LG: At the moment, you have a scholarship from the Jan Van Eyck Academy of Fine Art and live in Maastricht. How does living in Europe influence your artistic practice?

Exhibition: Plants and Meteorites: Cosmo-Botanical Fictions, Faculty of Biology, TU Dresden. Photo: Sven Stratmann

YM: This residency program encourages experimentation, research, and exchange. It brings together artists, designers, curators, architects, writers, and thinkers. The time here has been very helpful for developing and deepening my own artistic practice. It has also given me the opportunity to be in contact with many artists from different countries working in very different contexts. 

Residencies play a very important role in an artist’s professional career. However, these experiences often go unnoticed, because the art world tends to focus more on the end product rather than recognizing the relationships that are established, which are often impossible to extract and monetize. I see this one-year residency as an opportunity and a space to experience alternative futures beyond nationalistic frameworks. 



Lena Geuer in collaboration with students of her Master-seminar “Cuba libre? Image Scenario in between Utopia and Violence in Contemporary Cuban Art”(Antonello Bellini, Stephanie Blodig von Sternfeld, Elisabeth von Günther, Viktoria Ihl, Laura-Maria Schulze, Lea Weiß)

Yornel Martínez was born in 1981 in Manzanillo, Cuba and currently lives in Havana.He studied Fine Arts at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA, Havana) from 2002 to 2007. Martínez has received international awards and has participated in prestigious exhibitions, including the Havana Biennial. Website of Yornel Martínez: http://yornel-martinez.com

His solo-exhibition “Plants and Meteorites: Cosmo-botanical Fictions” was curated by Lena Geuer at the Technical University of Dresden. Link: https://tu-dresden.de/tu-dresden/universitaetskultur/news/ausstellung-im-biologie-foyer-yornel-martinez-pflanzen-und-meteoriten-kosmo-botanische-fiktionen

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Lena Geuer (2023, 13. Juni). Yornel Martínez: Situating Cuban Art. the ARTicle. Abgerufen am 24. Mai 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/uqv1

Lena Geuer

Lena Geuer is a research assistant at the Institute of Art and Musicology at the Technical University of Dresden. In her doctoral thesis she dealt with the discourse on 'arte argentino' and examined artistic works by Marta Minujín and Luis Felipe Noé in this context.

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