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Signs of a postmodern sensitivity

These figures are renewal artists, since they redefine the discipline from their respective discourses and conceive it as art, the most updated conception of ceramics

Art historian, Director of the National Museum of Cuban Contemporary Ceramics

Havana, Cuba

Surisday Reyes Martínez

The work of Martha Jiménez, Teresa Sánchez, Lisbet M. Fernández, and Beatriz Sala Santacana has undergone significant changes formally and conceptually, which, as stated by Dr. Maria Elena Jubrias 1, show the transgressions of the modern paradigm in the visual arts and, concretely, in Cuban ceramics. It is necessary to consider the formal treatment of the object with postmodern indicators, as well as the thematic repertoire focused on more general meanings.

An assessment of the work done by these four artists shows that they should definitely be considered postmodern, not only because they transgress genres and emphasize small-format sculptural ceramics, but also because they resort to other indicators such as demystification, dematerialization, and the pre-eminence of the conceptual over the formal. Their discourses express postmodern content because they focus on human issues and the redefinition of ceramic art.2

Unlike previous artists, formal and aesthetic concerns are kept to a minimum in their works. As far as demystification is concerned, Martha Jiménez's grotesque mulatto women and Teresa Sánchez's proposals that repeat something as irreverent as excrement stand out. Thus, it can be said that the grotesque is one of the demystifying elements that mark most of the production of some of these authors. Moreover, this is taken to unsuspected limits and becomes an important discursive strategy. For example, Martha Jiménez's characters gradually and contradictorily enhance their sensuality, not only through exaggerated lips, breasts and buttocks, but also through a combination of elements that can have a negative impact visually. The small-format sculptures made by Teresa Sánchez at an early stage reveal an extremely aggressive treatment because of her faithful attachment to the neo-expressionist language typical of her academic training in Germany. The artist often uses the contrast between bright glazes and warm tones, which makes the representation even repulsive. All his work openly denies the formalist sublime. This reaches its zenith in the usual scatological forms seen in his latest ceramic achievements and openly visible in all his works. The incorporation of materials foreign to ceramics such as hair, metal, feathers, condoms and many other objects highlights the grotesque character of the proposals and completes their message. 

On the other hand, Santacana recycles salvaged objects, experiments with them and reconceptualizes them. She chooses metal, wood, glass, rope and fabric to glue them to the clay artifact according to her taste. In general, all these creators have succeeded in demolishing the mistaken notion of ceramics as a beautiful and decorative object. The visual strength of her works is directly related to the meanings and possible readings. Thus, one can speak of a renewed concept that is expressed precisely in the author's freedom to do whatever he deems necessary to generate certain reflections. However, installation as a discursive mode has become a differentiated proposition in the four women ceramists analyzed. Although in ceramics dematerialization does not reach the extreme as in other visual manifestations, it is perceived in the ephemeral character of some installations. This artistic expression has become a constant element in Teresa Sánchez's work. Her installation Epojé, conceived exclusively for one of the vaults of La Cabaña and adapted accordingly to the walls and ceilings of that space, will never be repeatable.

Installation proposals were also present in Lisbet's early work, as well as in later works, in a much more conscious way. The exhibition "Sense," for example, is one of her most emblematic exhibits because of "[...] its conceptual and formal synthesis, the combination of very different but also fragile elements, and the way the terracotta sculptures are installed."

On the other hand, through her own work dynamics, Santacana has been motivated to create sculptural ensembles and installations, the latter designed for outdoor spaces, as in the case of Inertia

These artists have also prioritized the conceptual values of the work over its formal attributes. Martha Jiménez’s mulatto women, at first popular and trivial have been getting interwoven with current social conflicts, as well as other female characters of her recent series dedicated to the circus. 

On the other hand, Teresa Sánchez stated the following: "[...] the aggressiveness, eroticism, irony, humor, etc. are useful for me to dismantle a possible rigidity in the reading and to pose a questioning as the core of the work."4 These are some of the discursive strategies he commonly uses to increase the semantic weight of his works.

With the exhibition "Crossing my safety," it is evident that the children represented by Lisbet embody adults with all their concerns. Likewise, Santacana has achieved a personal hallmark through a formal proposal that is a pretext for investigating the socio-cultural context in which the work is set. The artist omits the facial features of his characters to emphasize their actions and thus stimulate different readings. 

This is compounded by the complexity of the titles, generally with an important dose of reflection, irony and engagement with reality. There may be sometimes unfamiliar terms, such as Epojé Teresa's. Other times existential questions or statements are used; for example, Where are you? Where am I? of Lisbet and I take it in Martha's. In the specific case of Teresa Sánchez, at first the naming of her works referred to actions or postures of the figures depicted, but in her more recent proposals understanding becomes more complex because of the ambiguity of the words. On the other hand, Santacana uses identifications that refer to a story and function essentially as subtexts. He also makes use of questions that pose a series of queries to the viewers.

Martha Jiménez, Teresa Sánchez, Lisbet M. Fernández and Beatriz Sala Santacana have gone deeper into very sensitive topics with a high social impact. Prostitution, the migratory issue, several matters related to sexuality, and the lack of communication among human beings are just some of the topics that become worrying in the contemporary context and that have been addressed by them with original visual solutions.

Women, and particularly mulattos, have been at the center of Martha Jiménez's discourse, to refer not only to the Cuban essence, but also to address issues such as prostitution, migration, the inner drama of the individual, frustrations and ostracism. Teresa Sánchez has gone through different periods moving from the symbiosis between person and animal to installations with excrement, passing through a very particular form of abstraction: formless masses. Through the indirect presence of the human being, the creator explores the conflicts related to it, especially dehumanization.

Children have been the most recurring characters for Lisbet M. Fernández since her first forays into sculptural ceramics. Through them the artist expresses the conflicts, attitudes and everyday experiences of the individual. The following quote proves very pertinent in this regard: "[...] dialoguing with childhood or from childhood, stripping it of the chaotic garments of the current social situation, allows access to meanings that go beyond the common childhood veil."5

Santacana also expresses reflections on people and their immediate environmental and existential needs. He places special emphasis on diversity of thought and ethnic and cultural differences. He also employs irony and humor as strategies to elicit different approaches to phenomena. 

In sum, these figures are artists of renewal, as they redefine technique from their respective languages and conceive it as art, the most up-to-date conception of ceramics. This is demonstrated when the viewer is confronted with complex proposals such as Return by Martha Jiménez, "In Anima Vili" by Teresa Sánchez, Bend down, bend down by Lisbet Fernández or The march by Santacana, to name but a few examples. The formal and thematic acuity and complexity, expressed by the grotesque character of the representations, the reiteration of the installation mode, the incorporation of nonceramic elements and their recontextualization, is evident, as is the depth with which the themes are addressed, which in many cases makes interpretation difficult or generates new and unusual readings.

1 See Maria Elena Jubrias. Cuban artistic ceramics. Between modernity and postmodernity.

2 These postmodernity indicators were shown by Dr Maria Elena Jubrias in her book Cuban artistic ceramics. Between modernity and postmodernity, cited in previous pages.

3 Interview with Lisbet M. Fernández Ramos. Via email. Wednesday 25th September 2013, 1:30 pm

4 Teresa Sánchez Bravo. Text on the flyer for the exhibition "Expomobile II," 2nd Meeting of Cuban Contemporary Art, Visual Arts Development Center, Havana, November 1998.

5 Lisbet Madelin Fernández Ramos. Apprentice vocation, p.4.




Works by Martha Jiménez, Teresa Sánchez, Lisbet M. Fernández and Beatriz Sala Santacana