Artist gives presentation at Douglas College
By Cheryl Minns, Arts Editor
Havana-born artist Tonel (Antonio Eligio Fernández) graced the Aboriginal Gathering Place at Douglas College last week with a lively presentation and discussion about the many influences that affect a country’s art.
The talk was presented for students in a first year Modern Languages course, Introduction to the Language and Cultures of the Spanish Speaking World, but all Douglas students were welcome to attend.
Tonel explored the influence foreign collectors had on shaping Cuban art in the 1990s during The Special Period, when Cuba was embargoed.
“Many Cuban artists are producing work and thinking when they make their work about how this work is going to be also received outside of the country, outside of their culture,” he explained. “Think of how that can form the art and how that can create a situation where you might want to create something as an artist which looks really Cuban in a stereotypical manner so that it’s easily recognized by those foreign collectors.”
Tonel also included photos of his artwork that were influenced by Cuba’s changing state during the 1990s.
One sculpture, “The Boat” (1993), is simple—an old wooden boat with the shape of Cuba carved into the wood all over—but the message is powerful: it represents the hope Cubans had at the time of taking a boat to US soil and becoming an American citizen.
But for art lovers to truly appreciate work such as this, one needs to know the history and be able to relate to it, according to Tonel.
“We think that we understand something because we see shapes and forms that seem to be familiar to us, but in fact often the case is we don’t know the back story,” he explained in a question and answer period with the audience. “We don’t know the culture, the history forming the making of the creation of that image.”
He elaborated on the idea by explaining that Renaissance paintings cannot be fully appreciated without some understanding of the Christian beliefs that inspired such art.
Tonel’s artwork has been largely influenced by his upbringing in Cuba, but after being away from his homeland for the past few years, he has a better understanding of North American ideas.
“I have done work for some exhibitions where I’ve been talking about issues like money and capital, but I could only do that because I’ve been spending most of my time during these last 13 years outside of Cuba in North America,” he explained. “Now my vision of the world has changed and shifted and now I have that perspective that allows me to reflect on those issues.”
Tonel is currently working as a co-curator on an exhibition that is set to open in January 2014 at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia. The exhibition will feature contemporary art from Havana.