ARMANDO MARIÑO 

(Santiago de Cuba, 1968)

 

 

 

Although in the last few years Armando Mariño has turned to other topics and interests, his most characteristic work – that which made him known and admired – focused almost exclusively on the stressful relationship between western and non-western cultures, between the “civilized" and the “wild" or the "centre" and the "periphery". The concepts of opposites that have emerged over time, and are now elegantly called "global" and "local", have always referred to groups of dissimilar elements, belonging to one side or another. Currently, this duality is an abstraction, perhaps deliberately immobilizing, less useful than in the beginning, when the terms "colonialists" and "colonized", "developed" and "underdeveloped" pointed towards more basic political and economic questions.

 

Armando Mariño's painting has never paid much attention to such abstractions since the hub of his polarity has always been specific and concrete: the unequal positions of whites, representative of the west, the centre, the civilized, the developed and the global, and blacks, representative of all the rest. His paintings not only represent those relationships between white and black in a bodily form but he has also racializes themto make the issues more evident and categorical, without fear of being accused of Manichaeism. From a racial point of view, that alleged binary relationship is more complex than an equation made up of two elements. The white has always been on one side, but the Arabs, Latin American Indians, Native Americans, Asians and people with many skin tonalities have all been on the other side. It is also true that the blacks have turned out to be the representatives of the most punished extreme in such a polarity. And if they appear with so much force in his work it is not only because the artist himself is a black person. The question is not outlined from a merely autobiographical position. Like other artists of his generation, both white and black, Armando Mariño was concerned with the social and political aspects of that sector of our population.

 

Looking at his paintings we realize, however, that everything concerning racial conflict was summarized abruptly by Mariño in scenes that only have those two protagonists (or antagonists), although often the white is symbolized by creations and the black is the active character. Taking another recurrent euphemism from academic jargon, it may be said that his painting is a sort of defence of "otherness", but in his personal conception the "other" is always represented by the black. For Mariño, the black is the prototype of the "other". A black man – perhaps the artist himself – with white clipped pants, generally barefoot, is the one to appear in the foreground of most of his paintings, carrying out different actions in contrast to some aspect of western culture, the white man's culture. The examples are multiple and often aggressive: a black person defecating on a portrait of Velázquez inside a paintingby Miró; arm wrestling on a table against a well-dressed white manager; lying on the floor after devouring a bunch of apples (the Big Apple?); carrying sacks (of sugar?) in front of which he piles real sacks; scoring a basketball in the famous Duchamp’s urinal; sitting down in front of a white canvas watching Delacroix paint Liberty Leading the People, and so on.

 

Many of Armando Mariño's concerns seem to revolve around the concept of art, the prestige or the hierarchy of artistic production, around the painter's trade, since his works constantly appropriate fragments of famous works or classic, romantic, academic, modern, avant-garde and trans-avant-garde portraits. His works quote Zurbarán, Velázquez, Van Gogh, Matisse, Miró, Mondrián, Magritte, Calder and Duchamp. Often these works are represented by symbols such as the painter’s brush and palette, the working tools of the artist which are like his sword and shield. It could be thought then that he has taken art as the central topic of his entire provocative, demystifying, desecrating program; the history of so-called "universal” art (made up mostly of Europeans and North Americans). Or perhaps he has set aside the great maestros and made the other artists -- especially those of peripheral countries -- take them as exemplary models to be emulated if they wish to become part of this pantheon. This concern at times acquires a distressing tone when one is faced with the difficulty that such useless emulation generates. Yet Mariño’s reflections always go much further. The relationships between peripheral art and the art of the "central" countries, or between the peripheral artist and the history of western art, can be considered a leitmotif, but his central topic has always been the evidence of inequality, especially the exclusion and racial discrimination that weighs on the black person in all walks of life, represented here by the black artist. 

 

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