A well-deserved homage to the oeuvre of a tireless artist comes with the opening of En cuerpo y alma: Bronces de Pedro Pablo Oliva (Wholeheartedly: Bronzes by Pedro Pablo Oliva), an exhibition that will stay at Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center from February 14th to April 29th. A mix of nostalgia and utopia pervades us as we enter the scarlet room that houses the seventeen sculptures that make up the exhibition. There, taken out of the canvas, Little Red Riding Hood, Matías Pérez, Clementina, Martí, Fidel, the brides, the muses, the king, the lizards rest … along with the anonymous faces that make up the epic of common man that Oliva has perfected throughout more than forty years of creation.
A breath of complicity emerges from the silent communion shared by the artworks. They sum up the artist’s concerns and points of view, those issues that go beyond the limits of art to become crucial topics in the evolution of Cuban society and ever more, of the whole mankind. Weight or lightness, that seems to be the philosophical dilemma with which the inhabitants of this magic and absurd universe struggle. Weight announces gravity, means heaviness and density, implies the presence of a load and so it may come to be exhausting. On the contrary, lightness is identified as weightlessness, etherealness; hence those two concepts are presented as antithetic. Nevertheless, sometimes lightness means a refinement of the concept of weight and load. So we should consider from distance –and therefore, with irony–, the harmless and idealistic appearance of Oliva’s characters, since the true strength of this singular poetics lies in the dialectics of opponents.
Creating an art disguised as childishness –both from a conceptual and formal point of view–, allowed Pedro Pablo Oliva to overcome successfully the polemic seventies. Behind the sweetened ingenuous game without any “sinful” purpose, remains a creation full of insinuations, incisive critics and reflective questioning that defends social and human improvement. The inhabitants of his imagination keep paying attention to the events that take place around them, tackling with sharpness and good mood the frustrations of a people marked by the failure of their political project, a people that tries to redefine their identity both at a theoretical level and in the sphere of everyday life.
Thus, national obsessions like emigration come to play a fundamental role, represented in artworks such as Viajeros (Travelers, 2013), La gran carroza (The big carriage, 2013) or El gran viaje (The great trip, 2014). The topic of survival and the possibility of reaching new horizons have a central part in these creations. In the first of them, a couple of lovers is ready to take flight on the back of a gracious bird; in the second one, four characters, including a king, use a big fish as a boat, which, curiously, swims back to front; and in the last one, a group of characters among which we recognize Martí, Fidel and Raúl, sails in an umbrella in the rough waves of a sea of bluish tones. For Oliva all these vessels are symbols of Cuba, the past and present of the Island. It is not only about the trip as a physical displacement from a geographic point to another one, but the trip as a metaphor of change, of abandoning a certain ideology, of progress.
The constant allusion to the universe of children, to fables and legends that belong to Cuba’s cultural heritage, small-town gossips or myths invented by him is another element that identifies Pedro Pablo Oliva’s creative procedure. In his artworks the lyricism predominates, without giving up to the search for profoundly philosophical issues and of universal transcendence. Clementina, la siesta y el gato (Clementina, the nap and the cat, 2015), El tierno amor de Bustelo (Bustelo’s tender love, 2014), La extraña muchacha de los camaleones (The strange chameleon’s girl, 2013), El beso (The kiss, 2013)… are artworks in which the artist expands the neoexpressionist language and enriches it with surrealist elements and others coming from the purest magic realism. Thus he finds the point of balance between local and global, between his preference for anecdotes and the reflective nature of his fantasies.
El beso is one of the most beautiful pieces of the exhibition. Wrapped in a mantle of romanticism, this creation alludes to one of the topics art has dealt with more frequently throughout centuries. There can be found in it a clear reference to Marc Chagall’s The Birthday (1915), but the roles have been changed. Now it is the young girl who comes down in a heavenly way to kiss her lover, a tiny man who rests sitting on a rock, holding in his hands a little bouquet of flowers.
An imperturbable serenity pervades both faces that, with their eyes closed, receive the sweet touch of their lips while their bodies form a perfect vertical line, which shows the artist’s obsession for balance and levitation as metaphors of the search for inner peace.
If we were talking about a writer, we could say that during all the time that has passed since he graduated from the National School of Art, Oliva has written once and once again the same novel, but, does it make him a monotonous or repetitive artist? He is indeed, since life is repetitive and the questions we unceasingly ask about it are the same. Pedro Pablo Oliva’s oeuvre appears in incessant evolution, there are twists in the discourse and morphological variations, but the essence remains unchanged. He has been capable, as few, of creating an artistic code that makes his oeuvre an indivisible whole. So you are invited to visit En cuerpo y alma and sweep along by the fantasies materialized in Pedro Pablo Oliva’s bronzes.