New York-based Cuban artist, Ofill Echevarria interviewed in Berlin, after just having
presented "In Situ", his last exhibition in Valencia, Spain.
Mónica Isla: What is your understanding of Art?
Ofill Echevarria: I like to think that the main idea of any work of art comes from a moment of
lucidity, what they call inspiration, by the artist itself. I believe that art is an extension of who
produces it. I also think that today the artist needs to know certain aspects of Art History to
be able to interact in the Art World.
MI: Why does speed appear constantly in your work? Why do you think it is important?
OE: All begins with an investigation in regard to Photography, of how to translate the effect of
speed raised by it, to oil on canvas. However, the hurry, as we all known, is not a
characteristic phenomenon of the human being, it is not a natural anthropological data.
The constant acceleration of time; the impatience; the stress; the waste of information, are all
factors that to a certain extent define our lives. I most of all consider myself an observer. See
for example my videos taken by all over the city, they are observations, mainly.
MI: What does the city means to you and in what sense do you intend to portray it in your
OE: A city is a town that has grown. The metropolis, for instance, tells us about the future;
the future of all cities. You get away from it and when you turns back and see, you can see
its true essence: it is a living thing. Imagine Downtown as an actual body, except that it is growing without measure. So the streets, with their constant flow, are its veins; and that that we call chaos is nothing more than splendor, boom of that “living thing”. The city is full of dreams, of expectations; and there is where the lack of identity becomes more evident. I try to convey all of this through
MI: What are the ideas that you are trying to convey through the people's lack of identity in
your work and the colors you use?
OE: Perhaps in an ideal, eminently prosperous future, It would matter little who we were
before. I think that the speed of modern life in cosmopolitan cities establishes a very low
parameter of personal identity. Since our judgment depends on preconceived ideas, we are
delimited by small moments of absolute reality. We are a social product. We relate at all
times, even with the machines. All our universe has been invaded by icons, symbols, flags.
When conceiving an urban landscape, I do it thinking about all of this; and I usually worry
that one or another detail appears more or less diffuse, returning to the topic of how to
represent the ephemeral of an image. That is why I always return to abstraction.
Color isn't just not an issue for me. Although perhaps color and gesture would be the only
elements that remain spontaneous when I’m making a painting.
MI: Who do you consider your greatest influences?
OE: I am a very curious person, everything interests me. Though I have always been
interested in the Italian and Spanish schools of painting, as well as in the classics, generally
speaking; the Renaissance. I must say also that 90% of learning comes from the moving
image, or more recently from the virtual world. In Latin America we have both abstract and
figurative painters, as well as conceptual artists that I am passionate about, but not to dwell
too much, I will say that in general American, Asian, and European contemporary art,
MI: How does it influence or how did it influence your development as an artist, the political
experience of your country?
OE: In the midst of the rebellious spirit and precarious conditions of the late eighties in
Havana, and during a moment of openness in the cultural policy —partly thanks to the
Perestroika, which was already imposing a new way of seeing the world— a booming
occurred, culturally speaking. It was during those years that arises what has been called the
Generation of the 80s, of which I took part as a member of the Arte-Calle Group.
The opening turned into closing almost immediately and then the reprimands, the raids, and
the censorship of everything that appeared to be politically incorrect began. At that time it
was very popular (among us, always) "El Seguroso" [kinda secret agent to the service of the
regime]. El Seguroso: the one in charge of security; the one on the part of the power; the one
who controls and has control; the informer.
All dictatorships are more or less the same, and every repressive experience, threat that one
should try to remember. I would say that the fear that I came to feel at that time —to the
frustration, the discontent, or even the madness that would have had accompanied to the
impossibility of making a life in the Havana of those years— threw me into the adventure of
exile; an adventure that I mostly recognize congenital, but, as is well known, entails other
frustrations, other discontents, and even other follies.
Those who know me, know that I am not an “artivist” or something like that. I am interested in
social criticism, but not in politics itself. Nor I am a pessimist. However, from my point of
view, Havana today is experiencing a moment of glow similar to the one mentioned above,
although in another historical context; a truly paradoxical moment, I would say. It would seem
the triumph of opportunism as a logical aspect of the times. Emerging artists with their own
studios- galleries? “Apparently” Independent art galleries? Unlimited sale of artwork, In a
scenario of devastation and a people marked by poverty and repression? Surely this part of the history is not been written yet. A few months ago, the director of a gallery in New York told me enthusiastically on his return from the island that things were changing there. Is a Cuban-American who does not understand that things in that country changed in 1959, when the working class took power; a dream that does not fit the democracy that the capitalist left has got, especially in the United States.
In Miami, for instance, a new way of analyzing the problem of exile is beginning to gain
popularity between scholars recently coming from other parts of the world, a group of
capitalists who now serves as allies of Cuban culture (business people, basically) and the
same old group of artists and intellectuals. A perverse circle, I would say, where
misinformation as a programed form of evasion and a new type of utopia coherent with the
new reality of Cuba, converge.
Years ago, whilst in Mexico, I was trying to understand the political thinking of artists and
friends around; which was diverse but prudent. “Freedom is respecting the rights of others”, I
heard saying many times. One day I wrote a note, an idea: ways of escape = ways of art; it is
not true? An indoctrinated artist is a passive artist, limited by his beliefs. In this regard I think
that all utopia is also a limitation; a self-limitation, to be exact. I understand that creative
processes has to do with the way we'd like the world to be, but could not justify the way we
want the world to be.
Freedom is still a dream for any Cuban, wherever they live. Faced with the impossibility of
feeling completely free, I try at least to remain creative. That is why I always try to push my
proposals towards a new level of action, to help release them.
MI: How do you conceive the idea of the cultural field and how do you insert yourself and
move away from its center?
OE: The Visual Arts field has specific rules that are characteristic of the field itself, which are
not learned in school. Artists and intellectuals participate in a game where is not necessary to
win or lose, and where, I would dare to say, the chances of error are higher than those of
succeeding. Art and Politics do not go hand in hand, but many in the field insist on relating
them, creating barriers that basically undermine the work of art.
I started very young to interact in the Art World, first during the prodigious eighties in Havana,
and later in other places of vast cultural activity. Thinking about it, I think that I usually
approach the Art circle to show what I've been doing, and I move away from this to grow as
Mónica Isla is a researcher and assistant in the National Museum of Fine Arts of Chile.