Juan Roberto Diago Durruthy stems from a long-established family of black Cuban artists and intellectuals whose credentials are well documented. I would like to draw attention to the way of placing racial identity before national identity in sentences such as this since its use is still a taboo in many of our discourses and writings, probably because of the fear of incurring discriminatory or racist expressions.
In some of his recent works, Roberto Diago has presented a more amiable, less conflicting image of blacks, who simply claim a place under the sun, either in the city or near nature, as in the works Tu Lugar (Your Place), 2006 and El Hijo del Monte (The Son of the Bush), 2008. With reference to the exhibition Un Lugar en el Mundo (A Place in the World) held in UNEAC’s Villa Manuela Gallery in 2009, Diago replied to a comment by critic David Mateo about the absence in these works of their habitual aggression and criticism of racial problems: “People always tend to frame the racial issue, the black issue, approached from marginality, and this exhibition despite that, speaks of a place in the world, that tranquil place that our ancestors, our parents, our grandparents, and mothers always had." Perhaps Diago is unconsciously idealizing the real situation of most black Cuban families, yet he gives us signs to suspect the underlying existence of critical messages in those faces without mouths, or in those fragmentary supports made of patches that refer to backgrounds of poverty and disadvantages that black people still confront, which forces them to have to assemble their world from bits and pieces, like those bedcovers that we see in humble homes. In this context, the absence of mouths of his characters can be understood as an allusion to the difficulty that blacks still have in openly articulating their discourse, expressing their discomfort and telling their story in their own words, without having someone speaking for them, silencing or censoring them. And although those schematic faces, some with one rectangular eye and another circular eye, remind us of masks, perhaps because our memory is overburdened with old references, but in Diago's case these are always schematized human faces and not Afro-exotic masks. They are the faces of black people who look at the reality that surrounds them in a different way from how they are perceived, often contemptuously, with paternalism or tolerance.