September 2 – November 20, 2011
On view for the first time in the United States, El Muro is a series of ten photographic triptychs by Cuban artist Eduardo Hernández Santos (born 1966). In 2005 Santos discovered that a block of the Malecón, the five-mile sea wall extending from Old to Central Havana, had been claimed as a place where gay and transgendered Cubans congregated on a nightly basis. He photographed at El Muro (the wall) over the next year, engaging in discussions with his subjects, many of whom had no other public social outlet to express this aspect of their identities.
In the words of the artist, this project strives to represent “the inner essence of a people who struggle to define and defend their right to be themselves, to have a space of their own.” “These photos are my tribute to these people, to their courage.”
Each triptych includes two images of the wall itself flanking a portrait of people at El Muro. On each left-hand image, the artist has spelled out fragments from the “La isla en peso (The Island Burden)” a poem written in 1943 by Virgilio Piñera, a gay Cuban writer (1912-1979). In passionate, poignant and scathing language, the poem charts what Piñera saw as the often repressive, violent, and insular nature of Cuban culture.
SCMA is the first museum to acquire El Muro for its permanent collection. The work was purchased with the Dorius/Spofford Fund, established by Smith College in 2002 to support programs dealing with issues of citizenship, censorship, creativity, and contemporary political and social repression associated with sexual identity and expression. The installation of El Muro at the Museum is supported by the Suzannah J. Fabing Programs Fund for SCMA.
Image credit: Eduardo Hernández Santos. Cuban, born 1966. El Muro (The Wall), 2005 (printed 2008) [detail]. Gelatin silver prints with applied lettraset. Purchased with funds from the Dorius-Spofford Fund for the Study of Civil Liberties and Freedom of Expression. ©2011 Eduardo Hernández Santos.