Exhibition by Leandro Soto. National museum of Fine arts (Building of Cuban Art), Trocadero street between Monserrate and Zulueta, Old Havana. March-May 2018
by: Corina Matamoros
A powerful anthropological inclination indebted to Post-Conceptualism, was deployed by Cuban art at the beginning of the 1980s, considerably broadening the conceptual horizons, procedures and expressive resources used by artists such as Leandro Soto, José Bedia and Juan Francisco Elso, then emerging creators.
I think of the exceptional piece The creative hand of Juan Francisco Elso, a hand of the Mayan god to create the world. I think of José Bedia's big installation El golpe del tiempo, dedicated to the Dakota Indians, and I think of Leandro Soto's Kiko constructor, inspired by humble construction workers, where his uncle Kiko appears as a hero of a new type, a simple hero of people and work, of everyday life, an almost non-hero hero, with his working clothes, his instruments and the brigade of fellow workers. They are works of art that make us think of what makes us equal as men, as individuals in connection, similar in a desert of Arizona or in the digital cloud.
Leandro Soto has a very special DNA: he embraces all kinds of culture as if it were nature. But no, it is about culture, tolerance, interpretation, assumption and support of the culture of others as if it were one's own. To analyze what unites us, the patterns that match, the chromosomes that unite.
The visual Chronicles that Leandro Soto presents in this set of works are a very brief selection of a kind of ethnographic trajectory lived in very diverse places of the world. The artist has explored social behaviours, religious cults, artistic techniques, pedagogical experiences and multidisciplinary artistic creations in countries such as Mexico, India, the United States, Peru, Panama, Spain, Barbados, Italy and Cuba. Soto seems more attracted by the overlapping cultural and religious elements than by their divergences. With an exceptional power of interpretation and assimilation of knowledge in heterogeneous contexts, this artist scenographer, actor, professor, painter, manager of community projects and initiator of performance on the Island, gives us with equal interest his passage through a river of Tabasco, the majesty of Machu Picchu, or the intense spirituality of a Hindu temple.
Instead of having, as much of today's art, the wealth of today's great multicultural capitals, Soto goes to the original sources, to the regions where living traditions are solidly linked to an inescapable present, providing conceptions, manufactures, techniques, materials, productions, objects and concrete life experiences that directly feed these visual chronicles.
It may seem distant, to today's Cuban public, this type of art that delves into local traditions, beliefs, particular religious practices and imaginaries of great popular roots. Accustomed as we have been to works where the socio-political commentary has long hijacked the national art scene and, later, to productions centred on the intelligence of the verb and intellectual sophistication, Soto reminds us, with the intensity and richness of his travelling chronicles, that perhaps we have fallen asleep a little with diminished perspectives on things, forgetting that man is also many men and art is always born local.
Behind this apparent and prolific variety of scenes can be glimpsed the thread of a curiosity and an anthropological interest sustained during forty years of his career, in which Soto builds an impressive ecumenical vision of man, without distinction or contempt of any kind.
Kiko builder is dead. Not the character that appears in the artist's piece, but the man who inspired it. He passed away a few weeks ago in Cienfuegos and it is very satisfying to think that in a room of this National Museum of Fine Arts, his fixed stamp of modest bricklayer will continue to tell us something about ourselves, about how we have been in this short period of time, about which dreams they revealed to us or with which efforts we worked our way. Kiko builder. A man from this tropics, like he could be from Arizona. A man. Man: the true sense of art. The art of Leandro Soto and the visual chronicles that we inaugurate today are precisely made from that kind of lived anthropology.