Alexis Esquivel Bermúdez(La Palma, Pinar del Rio, 1968)

Alexis Esquivel is a mulatto artist and intellectual who has never wished to "whiten” himself but, on the contrary, to become darker, blacker. This attitude is seen not only in his physical appearance, the characteristics of his skin, hair and hairdo, but resides in the deepest strata of his consciousness. Esquivel presents this in the sharp perceptions of the black population's social reality in his paintings

La carrera del siamés (The siames race)

Despite the apparent simplicity of the image, this is an extremely suggestive painting full of small subtleties. Esquivel has used two small handcrafted figures that are sold as souvenirs in the foreign tourist stores in Cuba to represent Siamese twins. These dolls are generally stereotypical representations of a black man and a mulatta in their carnivalesque, tropical, "Caribbean" role. Very rarely – as in this case – they represent a white man or woman. Maybe the prototypes were originally conceived in the 1950s, or even earlier, specifically for the American tourist market and have remained the same. Mostly, they are amusing, inoffensive objects easy to sell in the souvenir market. These figures are the quickest emissaries, in Cuba and abroad, of a false and adulterated image of exotic black and mulatto Cuban men and women, always dressed as rumberos (rhumba players and dancers), with maracas in their hands, dedicated to entertaining and pleasing tourists. (foto 1) A version of this idea appears in one of Esquivel’s previous drawings, in which the Siamese twins are participating in a steeplechase. In this painting, the obstacles have disappeared and only the stands and the big lamps illuminating the competition remain. Is Esquivel suggesting that both characters, the black and the white, are destined to remain inevitably together in this race in which only jointly will they be able to arrive at the finishing line or, on the contrary, not arrive at all? Or do these Siamese twins express doubt about the advantages of our celebrated racial mix, since, although united, they exhibit separate racial identities, half black half white? Instead of mestizo or mulatto, is it not preferable to characterize our society, our nation's project, according to its diversity and to conceive it as multiracial (or multicoloured)? Lastly, with regard to the title of this work, the double meaning of the English translation of the word carrera (race), the same word used for raza (race), is no mere coincidence. A good pun sometimes has the virtue of provoking deeper reflections than a complicated theoretical discourse.

Year: 2005-2006
Technique: Acrylic on canvas
Size: 113.5 x 154 cm

Theme: colonialism violence race