The work of Moisés Finalé (who settled in Paris around 1989 and then placed an extravagant dieresis on the i of his name) has always been based on cultural references of multiple origins; many stemming not only from Cuba and Afro-Cuba, but from ancient Egypt, India’s classical period, pre-Columbian Mexico, popular Haiti and, of course, black or sub-Saharan Africa. Finalé uses these cultural references in a liberal, whimsical manner, with no intention of creating a discourse of historicist, reflexive or intellectual character
The work of Moisés Finalé (who settled in Paris around 1989 and then placed an extravagant dieresis on the i of his name) has always been based on cultural references of multiple origins[i]; many stemming not only from Cuba and Afro-Cuba, but from ancient Egypt, India’s classical period, pre-Columbian Mexico, popular Haiti and, of course, black or sub-Saharan Africa. Finalé uses these cultural references in a liberal, whimsical manner, with no intention of creating a discourse of historicist, reflexive or intellectual character, as did many Cuban artists of the previous generation, such as Elso, Bedia or Brey. On the contrary, the painting of Moïses Finalé has followed a sensual, voluptuous, hedonist trend, motivated above all by decorative effects. Perhaps his main objective has been a search for elegance, mystery and beauty. I refer here to that European concept of beauty established during the 18th century taking its aesthetic references from the Greek, Roman and Renaissance cultures; only much later – at the beginning of the 20th century – did Europe begin to look for other extra-European sources of beauty.
I do not believe that Moïses Finalé has felt uncomfortable or embarrassed by his defined aesthetic vocation (which some could describe as aesthetician), not even when a new generation of Cuban artists – such as Carlos Rodríguez Cárdenas, Glexis Novoa and Aldito Menéndez – began to imbue their works with a sense of social and political commitment; neither much later, when art in Cuba began its transition towards post-modernism. Not even more recently when, at the beginning of the 1990s, some resumed such social commitment to attack racial prejudices and other signs of moral and political regression in our society. Moïses never changed his course, convinced that his compass was working well. This does not mean that his work is conservative or outdated, nor can it be said that his work is unconcerned about its context or the changes and problems of his time. Yet his true dramas and tensions have referred more to the interpersonal, psychological and sexual issues of his fictitious characters and to the formal and stylistic problems and conflicts that each work presents. In this sense, his aesthetic is closer to the joy of living or the mystery of creation than to the burden of existence.
One of the most persistent features of Moïses Finalé’s work is the creation of atmospheres and scenes in which small groups of mainly female characters, alongside animals and objects, are absorbed in ambiguous, enigmatic relationships, or exhibit stilted positions, with gestures, postures and grandiloquent, theatrical contortions, in which eroticism, sex and sometimes lust play an essential role. To create those mysterious atmospheres and scenes, Moïses has, almost from the beginning, used elements characteristic of our Afro-Cuban religions, especially the most popular of them, Santería, which he has mixed with objects and symbolisms taken from other religious beliefs or popular superstitions. In all his work, we find altars, statuettes, knives, necklaces, tools and attributes of the orishas, the inevitable conical head of Elegguá, as well as canes and masks. His work is full of disguises and masks, crowns and costumes meant to create drama and evoke atmospheres in which concealment, lack of definition, and camouflage emerge. His masks were initially the masks of stick-up bandits (like the famous Zorro), bridal veils, masks reminiscent of Venetian carnivals, culminating in the masks of black Africa or in their imaginary versions.
The Africa that appears in Moïses’s works stems mostly from the heritage of Picasso’s early Cubist period and from other representatives of European Modernism from the beginning of the 20th century. It is an imaginary, invented Africa, a mysterious and exotic Africa that, rightly or wrongly, has nurtured the work of thousands of artists around the world and fed a wide range of popular imagery. An Africa which we should be careful not to renounce or reject completely as untrue or apocryphal, since this would force us to throw overboard many decades of Cuban, Caribbean and Latin American as well as "universal" art, in which there are already such prominent figures as Picasso and the Cuban Wifredo Lam. For that reason, it may not be sensible to embark on a settling of accounts, no matter how much we defend the necessary process of decolonization of our mentalities, subjectivities, creativities and aesthetic tastes. In the long run, these expressions have turned out to be less harmful to our cultural identities than other artistic visions that have appropriated the traditions of European or North American origin and have disregarded any representation of Africa, the African and the Afro-American. We should rather consider its positive side, the fact that the presence of such a fictitious, invented Africa, built largely by our imaginations (with the support of cinema, literature and the media) has become a form of identification, sympathy, admiration and a celebration of its societies and cultures, its objects, symbolisms, spiritualities and religions. This has generally been assumed with honesty, passion and pride by many artists of our part of the world. The real Africa – or the many Africas that make it up – is still located in the future, or in a present to which most of us unfortunately do not have access.
Moïses Finalé represents, better than anyone else in this collection, this form of naïve, joyful artistic fantasising about Africa and the Afro-Cuban that some may label too picturesque or exotic. In truth, it is not offensive or disrespectful, since its function, like the other elements in his creative system, has not been to problematize but rather to display beauty. Some may criticize this conception of beauty as being Eurocentric [ii]. Surprisingly, such images of Africa exist even within our Afro-Cuban religions and this is due, among other things, to the long-standing social, cultural and religious disconnection from the African continent which has deprived us of knowledge of the multifarious African cultural expressions and societies, its religious developments, objects, art, music and languages. This disconnection has facilitated the emergence of a “Cuban Africa” or "Afro Cuba” which, in many ways, has ignored elements of the real Africa.
[i] The most complete publication to date on the life and work of this artist is Moïses Finalé, with texts by Zoe Valdés, Editions Cercle D´Art, Paris, France, 2000.
[ii] On the question of beauty related to African and Afro-American traditions, refer to the anthology by Sarah Nuttall, Beautiful/Ugly: African and Diaspora Aesthetics, Prince Claus Fund, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2006.
Find our contribution to this debate in “Meditaciones (más o menos rencorosas) sobre la belleza”, 2007. http://www.criterios.es/pdf/orlandohdezmedit.pdf Revista Criterios (Havana) www.criterios.es and its translation into English “Meditations (more or less rancorous) on beauty”, in a publication by Ernesto Oroza/ Gean Moreno, as part of an installation made for the South Florida Cultural Consortium Media and Visual Arts Fellowship Exhibition, University Galleries, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, U.S., Sept-Oct 2009.