Upon receiving the September issue of the PEM newsletter with a notice about Yoan Capote’s Fidel Castro sculpture exhibition, Marilyn Frankenstein sent them the following note. Additional problems with the Museum’s notice follow this exchange.
Date: Monday, September 18, 2017 at 10:04 AM
To: Peabody Essex Museum <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: When liners sailed and the screen screamed
I think you have a terrific museum and have enjoyed visiting many times — if I had a car or lived in Salem, I would have become a member.
But I take great exception to your description of Yoan Capote’s sculpture — of course [your writer] can have the opinion that Fidel Castro was a dictator, but others, including myself have a different view, and to state Castro was a dictator, without any qualification, to state that as a true fact, is very offensive.
In our country, where the millions of suppressed votes, let alone an electoral college that is a holdover from slavery, just resulted in a “democratic” election of a white supremacist endorsed by the KKK, I think people should be careful about calling other country’s leaders “dictators.”
From: Peabody Essex Museum <email@example.com>
Date: Monday, September 18, 2017 at 9:36 AM
To: Marilyn Frankenstein
Subject: When liners sailed and the screen screamed
Yoan Capote: Immanence
Yoan Capote’s Immanence is a monumental steel sculpture that depicts Fidel Castro, the dictator who dominated Cuban life and culture from the Revolution in 1959 until his death in 2016. The sculpture is welded together from thousands of rusted door hinges that speak to the impact of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba’s magnificent but crumbling architectural heritage and suggest the social and political forces that have exerted control over Cuba’s people for more than half a century. On view through October 22 in East India Marine Hall.
I am constantly amazed at how critical Cuban cultural accomplishments and works of art by patriotic Cuban artists are turned into simplistic ideological anti-Castro artifacts, an especially surprising reversal and undermining when it is undertaken by those who seemingly value artistic achievement and integrity. This renewed july26.org web site and blog began, in fact, with notice of such an achievement and called a Boston Globe review of it to task for doing precisely this. It is even more astonishing that a museum would characterize in a simplistic, diminished, dismissive fashion the subject of its own exhibition, one whom the artistic work is meant to reveal in deep and complex dimensions. And this is exactly what the Peabody Essex Museum is doing with its presentation of Yoan Capote’s sculpture of Fidel Castro.
Even after Marilyn Frankenstein pointed out the problematic nature of labeling Fidel Castro a “dictator” in its newsletter announcement, the Museum has continued with this characterization in its ongoing publicity. To its credit, the installation notice does reflect something more at work. Look at the language in the opening announcement and try to make sense of it:
Yoan Capote’s Immanence (2015) is a monumental steel sculpture that depicts Fidel Castro, the dictator who dominated Cuban life and culture from the Revolution in 1959 until his death in 2016. Without this leader’s trademark revolutionary cap and cigar, his rusted visage could be mistaken for an unearthed antiquity. Historically, monumental sculptures have deified gods and rulers but as you move closer Capote’s Immanence offers another perspective. An image of the Cuban leader becomes a collective portrait of Cuba’s resilient citizens.
Offering a note of interest about the genesis of the sculpture, the announcement hints of broader “forces” at work that betray a complexity that does not easily resonate with so clear and definitive a label as “dictator.”
The sculpture is welded together from thousands of rusted door hinges that the artist acquired through a laborious process of exchange. Importing new hinges each time he returned from travel abroad, Capote traded them for old rusted hinges that were still being used in people’s homes. The hinges speak to the impact of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba’s magnificent but crumbling architectural heritage and suggest the social and political forces that have exerted control over Cuba’s people for more than half a century.
Indeed, the complexity of the sculpture suggests/requires/demands viewing it from all sorts of angles, and at different degrees of closeness, each revealing something different.
Google “Capote’s Immanence” and select “images”: you should get something on the order 17 different views and, if you keep scrolling, note the related images and then other perspectives here and there, both with and without additional objects, heating/cooling grills, doors, the back easel and what it does to the eyes and the sentiments, walls, wall art, people, animals.
Check out the video upload on youtube by Stash Prada.
Capote wants us to get this complexity — it’s right on his site, at www.yoan-capote.com/en/artworks/sculpture-and-installations/immanence — and what does it mean, “variable dimensions”? And that he has “public space” projects?
As Capote himself said, when the exhibit opened:
“I understood that I had to do a piece that could have more meanings and be more controversial—as controversial as Fidel himself. He is a symbol of duality and of mobility. So I was thinking to do a piece that is a representation of society and could be interpreted in different ways.
“I went to different houses in Cuba and brought new hinges that I bought, and asked the people in the houses to give me one old hinge in exchange for a new one. This was a symbolic process, and I wanted to show it. So I did it on film.
“I did this with about 2,000 houses. After that, I started to receive donations. With about 3,000 hinges I was ready to make a piece: a portrait of Fidel Castro that was created, from the hinges of Cuban society.
“This is a very open-to-interpretation piece. As a Cuban artist living nowadays, I realized that what was interesting for me was to do a piece that could have different interpretations. One of them, of course, is about this direct relationship of the leader and society, and how the leader is created by society and the society’s way of life.
“Of course, I was working on this piece with the idea of “collective unconscious.” And Fidel is the main archetype of Cuba. Wherever I go, I get into a taxi, and it’s “Cuban! Fidel Castro! What is going to happen?”
“I started to think: Let me do a piece that talks about this axis, this needle point, this limbo that Cuba is living in right now. Because the Fidel image is, for Cuba still—from my point of view—the beginning and the end. It’s the middle point. It’s an axis.
“The first title of the piece was Archetype. After I did the piece, I gave it a title that was more poetic.”
It is Capote’s “Imanencia” — and as Wikipedia tells us:
Immanence refers to those philosophical and metaphysical theories of divine presence in which the divine encompasses or is manifested in the material world. Immanence is usually applied in monotheistic, pantheistic, pandeistic, or panentheistic faiths to suggest that the spiritual world permeates the mundane.
No, it is safe to say that the characterization of Fidel as a “dictator” does not reflect the spirit or intention of Capote’s achievement here, and it is more likely to undercut the artistic message of this installation at the Peabody Essex Museum that runs through November 19. — pm