OPIUM. Works by José Toirac

(Images: From the series Esperando por el momento oportuno, 2012, graphite and pencil on cardboard, 20.5 cm x 27 cm)

On view March 18, 2019 to October 19, 2019
Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm

DRCLAS, CGIS South, 2nd Floor, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 
Contact: Cuba Studies Program Fellow, Cary Garcia Yero, or ARTS @DRCLAS Program Manager, Marcela Ramos

Curated by Curator and Art Critic, Octavio Zaya | Advised by Alejandro de la Fuente, Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics and Chair, DRCLAS Cuba Studies Program | The exhibition is part of the DRCLAS Cuba Studies Program’s activities related to the 60th anniversary of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, and it will be part of DRCLAS’s contributions to the 2019 Latin American Studies Association Annual Conference this May

Since early 1990s, José Toirac has been a well-known artist in Cuba, even if his unassuming and reserve personality didn’t propel him into instant fame and the recognition that was granted to other artists from his generation. Despite the obvious political irony of his paintings and drawings, or perhaps because of it, José Toirac was awarded last year’s National Prize of Fine Arts in Cuba while we were preparing his presentation at DRCLAS, a much deserved acknowledgment to his independent career that is finally catching up with what we understand as his “political poiesis.” He brings that irony mainly through the juxtaposition and combination of political and advertisement iconographies, but he is never explicit in his intentions, and his work is always full of nuances and successful pairings and encounters.

On the one hand, the exhibition presents 10 drawings that anticipate his rather successful and recognized series of paintings Tiempos Nuevos (New Times, 1996). Like his more famous and acclaimed paintings, these drawings bring together the iconographic public figure of Fidel Castro along with well-known and globalized adds from worldwide famous brands, such as Opium perfume by Yves Saint Laurent, Marlboro, or Benetton, etc. Perhaps Toirac is underlying the commercial component of politics, and perhaps he is equating commercial brands with the charismatic and selling potential of celebrities such as Castro.

On the other hand, the exhibition introduces a collection of new works—originally published in the book Parables (2017) along religious poems by Robert Gluck inspired by the Bible—to highlight, once again, the juxtaposition of religion and politics, theocracy and cult of personality, through known public images of the late Cuban leader, etc. All together, they represent the beginning of an overdue introduction of Toirac’s work in Harvard.

Octavio Zaya is an independent art curator, writer and editor. He has been Director of Atlántica Journal for the last 18 years. He has curated more than 40 exhibitions for more than 17 museums throughout the world, including the Guggenheim Museum, New York (1976) and the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid (2000, 2001, 2018). He participated at the First and Second Johannesburg Biennales, and was a curator of Documenta 11 (2002). He curated Spain’s Pavillion at the 55th Biennale di Venezia (2013).