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Fabrica Habana

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Fabrica Habana

Fabrica Habana, contemporary art gallery of Concha Fontenla, Habana, Cuba

Currently on exhibition at the beautifully renovated colonial home turned contemporary art gallery by Concha Fontenla in Old Habana is a three story exhibition by Cuban artists Jose Toirac and Octavio Cesar Marin. Toirac and Marin draw from various artistic movements such as Conceptual Art and Arte Povera to create a study of the recent history and current reality of Cuba. The gallery consists of three floors and if one begins at the top and works their way down, there is a chronological thread throughout the exhibition. Beginning with allusions to Ancient Western Philosophy and Christianity. On the third floor one will find a broken bronze vase to commemorate Diogenes de Sinope (412-323 BCA), a Greek philosopher of the “escuela cinica” who gave up all material goods and lived as a vagabond on the streets of Athens searching for the honest man.

Jose Toirac and Octavio Cesar Marin at Fabrica Habana

Fabrica Habana
On the same floor, a metal press sits on a pedestal. On one side of the press, is the symbol of christ as stamped on to the eucharist and on the other plate is the portrait of Che Guevara with the phrase “Patria o Muerte 2017”. Above the press is a quote from Fidel, stating that every child should be modeled after Che, an honest and virtuous man. To the right of the press is a long table with two dozen tin cups filled with packaged eucharists stamped with the portrait of the Che. Above the table floats a holy chalice also with the portrait of El Che.

Jose Toirac and Octavio Cesar Marin

On the second floor one will find many memorials to famous Cubans. Each memorial is a pedestal with the name of the historical figure, the dates of birth and death (if the person has died) and the work that each one is known for and on top of the pedestal are objects commemorating the individual. The memorials include intellectual figures such as Jose Marti as well as business men, a famous cook…

Jose Toirac and Octavio Cesar Marin
Jose Toirac and Octavio Cesar Marin
Jose Toirac and Octavio Cesar Marin

Jose Toirac and Octavio Cesar Marin at Fabrica HabanaFinally, on the street level, the artists present a red carpet made of flattened tin cans of Cuban beer and soda. And on the three walls of the gallery hang a series of portraits of Cubans today from a street recycler to a flower vendor a famous chef. Each of these portraits are executed on the material or tools of their trade. At the rear of the gallery, are a couple dozen portraits shot on a steel cart with trash bags (that is installed against the rear wall). These portraits seem a bit trite as they try to emulate professional studio portrait images. However the larger portraits are beautifully executed.
Jose Toirac and Octavio Cesar Marin at Fabrica Habana
Jose Toirac and Octavio Cesar Marin at Fabrica Habana

Jose Toirac and Octavio Cesar Marin at Fabrica Habana

Jose Toirac and Octavio Cesar Marin at Fabrica Habana

The artists effectively portray Cuba as a deeply Catholic and literate society that is wrought with contradictions. The clearest contradiction is effectively presented by the eucharist embossed with the portrait of Che. The island at the foot of the United States, proudly embraces its Marxist identity as proclaimed by Fidel – the tiny nation that stands against the empire while stringently faithful to the greatest empire of Latin American culture, the Catholic church.
Much of the beauty of the exhibition lies in the simplicity of materials employed to realize the work which also effectively portrays the reality of Cuba. A country with few resources that is industrious, able to maintain 70 year old cars with rescued or constructed parts and that is slowly reconstructing its decaying architectural masterpieces. The culture – music, dance, visual arts resonate throughout the globe and Jose Toirac and Octavio Cesar Marin are able to capture a small piece of this reality.