«Longing» from Martha Jimenez

On Friday, July 2, the "Longing" exhibition of the sculptress and ceramist Martha Jimenez from Camaguey, was opened to the public in the gallery of the Lombillo Palace. The exhibition will remain open during the month of July and early August, when once again Cuban families will be able to enjoy the Rutas y Andares cultural program of the City Historian's Office.

The House of the Count of Lombillo, located in the Historic Center of Havana, exactly in the Cathedral Square corner to Empedrado, is a singular space; has as its distinctive element three facades, with exceptional heritage values, the breezes and smells of the sea give it a special halo and complements it, on this occasion, the presence of the pictorial and sculptural exhibition of the Cuban artist Martha Jimenez Perez.

The words to the catalog sprang from the sensitivity of Argel Calcines, lable link to present the sample entitled "Longing", precise statement chosen by the author to exchange with the observer from her nine canvases of great format all made in mixed technique and three sculptures, of medium format, made with the enameled ceramic and metal technique.

And just this is one of the characteristics of Martha: her ability to express herself from different supports validated by a work of a commendable quality but above all because the artist has always been wise in choosing the symbols and figurations that, in a resolute way the observer communicates with her messages. Works open to the interpretation of each person, who then the observer, he becomes a co-creator of each of the works of the exhibition, to which reference will be made later.

Her intelligent workmanship allowed her the meritorious prize, awarded by UNESCO in 1997 to the "best set of works", as well as the prize UNEAC to the Sculpture Set Plaza del Carmen located in the city of Camaguey, where she resides; the Second International Biennial of Contemporary Teapot Art of Shanghai in China awarded two pottery ceramics as part of a competition in early 2010. Certainly her works have been exhibited on various estates throughout the country and beyond the seas, such as the Dominican Republic, France, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile. Recently her work was invited to the event Art Shanghai 2010, one of the most important in Asia.

Martha is the result of the first graduation of Instructors of Arts in Havana City, in the early years of the 1970s. Still an adolescent, her hands began to incorporate diverse works in themes, styles and techniques to the history of Cuban art. The pictorial language predominated in these years with a chromatism rich in brilliant values, her titles since then were related to the universal literature as for example: The gift of Sofia, 1977, allusive to the novel The century of the lights of Alejo Carpentier. (1)

Just in the final months of year 1981, she created a group of amateurs in the city of Camaguey, called Fidelio Ponce de Leon; there, she multiplied her talent in people who dedicated their free time in learning and developing their artistic abilities, in addition to raising their level of appreciation of the visual arts. Her students won prizes in the -then solid- movement of amateurs of the country, many of whom are now professional artists, others without abandoning their other professions, cultivate diverse techniques learned from their teacher, the rest continue in this group that up to the 29 years, resized with other guidelines according to the exigencies of the context.

In the context of the 80's, Martha's hands distinguished other expressions, other supports: mud. Along with other artists of the city, she gave to ceramics an aesthetic profile of national relevance and also in other latitudes. From then on, even today, her imagination is deployed preferentially in a coherent dialogue between the pictorial and the sculptural.

Her fat Caribbean, of visible African physiognomic and cultural heritages, from the 90s began to control deep sea. Signs of the first aesthetic turn in relation to the set of previous works. Her messages are multiple, but solid in a gender identity of the Caribbean region. They are thick women with broad hips, bulky breasts and full lips, even in their transgression as an aesthetic code in this context, they are elegant, light, sensual, gossiping, why not? but at the same time they are support of the family on their shoulders and backs it makes way and, in no few occasions, their vigorous dimension dwarfs the male image. Simple women, village women, tangible in each neighborhood, with which the artist became known in a demanding international art market, who still ask for it with these symbols.

In this sense of new signs, in the exhibition: "Spirits of the fish", in 2006, she incorporated into her women-symbols new ethnic traits that index women of Hispanic heritage. Works such as Leda and the Swan, Rapture and Carousel, point to those Caribbean people with a lot of adipose tissue, with thin lips and aquiline nose. Certainly unintentionally, from an anthropological perspective, she shows a diversity of the cultural mosaic of the Caribbean, because sometimes appear lighted red eyes remembering the Asian profile that accompanies us. On the other hand, the drawing was imposed, emerged in its sepia colors palette, ocher, green and blue tones harmonies in low keys. So, the borders between the pictorial and the colored drawing became porous. The expressive force gravitates in the lines, in the universal symbols, like the fish and its spine, the harlequin, the boat and the wheels. In her apparent simplicity she manages to relate codes that incite the observer to enter a world also dreamlike, imaginary, mythological ..., a Caribbean neobaroque.

The sculptural ceramics of the above-mentioned exhibition, all covered with engobe and enamel, also marked a conceptual turn, the relationship between figurations penetrate into unique and subtle universe. And is that the artist began to replace anatomical fragments by fish bones, by copings of the sad harlequin, to achieve effects of senses. She also sometimes severed limbs, and in others the latter are multiplied, with no other referent of the body. Martha, with springs, everyday takes us from the look to an intelligent and committed thought. This line of aesthetic thinking has been more cultivated.

In connection with her mastery as a ceramist, the intellectual Miguel Barnet, president of the UNEAC, in his recent visit to the City of Tinajones, wrote: "Do not be never fooled, spectator, the figures of flesh and bone are not always so human, sometimes the mud is more, but stop before the pieces of Martha Jimenez, who ennoble everything, because beauty is the only thing that guarantees Human condition ". (2) Human condition that is enriched when Marta gathers every Saturday the children of the community of the Plaza del Carmen and its surroundings, in her laureate workshop of creation and appreciation Brush with Soul of Kiss, and it is precisely for this plural and sustained work in their conceptual and aesthetic values, that the community professes a sincere affection for the simple artist and also for her instructive edge.

In this special opportunity, the community and bystanders of the Cathedral Square in Havana, right in the Lombillo Palace, have the privilege of being witnesses of the first fruits of the birth of a new symbolic language in the artistic trajectory of Martha Jimenez. The exhibition "Longing" assumes, as a guiding thread,  the sewing machine and its additions, instrument present in almost all traditional Cuban homes and in the world, icon of the domestic, elevated to an aesthetic and symbolic plane. The woman/sewing machine, in this sample is then incorporated into its conceptual dimension, in the contemporary context of the country's visual arts.

I would like to emphasize within the exhibition as a whole the work entitled Nubia. It is a painting with a strong presence of the drawing, which stands out for its interdiscursivity, the title refers us to the poem "Abdala" by Jose Marti. The figurations, the use of the symbols as the sewing machine, tool from which is provided the family; the presence of the woman as a doer of noble works and with her, or, rather, in herself, the nuclear home and extended to the nation warned by the colors of the national insignia; she transmits to us as a whole an infinite longing for the family past already finished, by the present that has inherited it, even in execution and, for the forging of a future from endogamous practices of the home-nation.

If Nubia refers us to the exclusive of each one that observes the work, on the other hand the work. Where are we going, Lord? Because it is a link of knowledge, social layers, chores, smells, flavors, and a creole of a unique aftertaste in Martha. It is a bazaar of popular types, in their endeavors, from here to there, looking for ... Will find it? Others completely alienated from reality, imbued with their readings, thoughts, dreams, disappointments, nostalgia, is ... a walk in Cuba in which we observe ourselves.

Predominate the colors worked in sepia nuances and brushstrokes of other values like green, red when they deserve it, example of it, the work Temptation. Certainly in that chromatic halo are the sculptures, the work Inwards, made in enameled ceramics and metal, has a distinguished workmanship. It's been established an estrangement between the title and the work, because the first reference that it transmits us is of exodus, by the visual signs of boat and oars, although anchored, nevertheless, the title summons us to a journey towards a reflective intimacy, to a trip to the origins, rich in values.

In that sense of transgression, in the denotation-connotation, is the work Bride, made in the technique of enamelled pottery, where the presence of the veil on the face, bare breasts, and the detail of the sewing foot -indispensable device of the sewing machine- right on the edge of one of the nipples, allow the observer to make successive readings, as sustenance, pain, strength, patience, behind the veil of apparent subordination.

Certainly, the exhibition "Longing" of the artist Martha Jimenez, in the Lombillo Palace, invites to a conversation of delicate insinuations from the canvases and the mud.

1 Made with mixed media on paperboard, 60 x 41 cm. In 1975 she realized the work Image of a flower, (oil on canvas) 95 x 62 cm.
2 Words written by Miguel Barnet, in the gallery-workshop of the artist, on June 5, 2010.

By: Kezia Zabrina Henry Knight. 
Office of Cultural Heritage, Office of the Historian of the City in Camaguey

July, 2010