Yulier Rodríguez Pérez – “We are souls in a purgatory called Cuba”
Yulier Rodríguez Pérez: “We are souls in a purgatory called Cuba” /
14ymedio, Luz Escobar
Posted on March 5, 2016
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 3 March 2016 — They never accepted him at
the San Alejandro Academy. Perhaps this is why, the work of the artist
Yulier Rodríguez Pérez (1989) is not part of the narrow mold of what is
learned in the classroom. He came from Florida, Camagüey, to settle in
Havana in an aunt’s house with the obsession with being a painter. Along
the way, he realized that he did not need a gallery, but to go out in
the street and take this space to leave his work.
Luz Escobar. You are known as a painter, graffiti artist and sculptor;
which of these artistic aspects do you most identify with?
Yulier Rodriguez Perez. I associate more with street art and don’t try
to correct that version, because of the visibility my work on the street
has given me. But it all starts in the studio, the workshop and the
canvas. All these characters that form our reality through my
perspective of the everyday come out on the easel. I live in the
Industria y Trocadero district, so I live in shit and work on Prado
Street, which is more shit. All the daily cinematography of these slums
guides me in finding my own discourse.
Escobar. What are the motivations that most often lead you to the easel,
the wall or the drawing paper?
Rodriguez. My pictures are like fables, a portrait of people’s
experiences. Others are more personal, but almost always reflect
neglected and discontent scenes. They are like souls, because at some
point we stop being people and now we are souls in a purgatory called Cuba.
We live condemned by ourselves, because this is the result of our
decisions and our inability to see beyond the fear and a thousand other
things. The images are just that: our souls that reflect the internal
pain, the impotence, the fear and the sadness.
Escobar. Choosing as an exhibition gallery facades and bus stops is not
very common among Cuban artists. What made put your hand to this
singular exhibition hall?
Rodriguez. I presented several projects in galleries and exhibitions,
but I was always marginalized. In the best case they told me I would
have to wait a few months. I offered a work now and it would be shown in
a year, when at best I was no longer thinking about it. The work evolved
and my intention as an artist had never been to have a retrospective of
my art, but to share it with the public at the moment it was created.
A friend in the urban art scene in Germany came to Cuba and we started
to do things. One day we went out to paint at night, everything was dark
and I didn’t know anything about this world. It caught me, it was like
an adrenaline rush and I was there with another graffiti artist who
wasn’t very well trained artistically, his work was more about making
letters, but he had experience as a street painter, he had lost his
stage fright. That union helped me a lot and I started to do my work.
Escobar. During your years as a street artist did you ever fear
reprisals for your work?
Rodriguez. At first I was worried because the pieces showed a reality
that many people do not want to see and others don’t want to be seen. At
the end I was losing my stage fright on the fly and I started helping my
friend with the theoretical part of conceptual expression, finding a
language. It was a mutual help. Then he left the country.
Escobar. What are the antecedents of graffiti art in Cuba?
Rodriguez. The lack of examples of street art is very strong. Who can I
mention? Street Art, with Maldito Menendez, but the majority of them
don’t live on the island. There is no urban Cuban art, right now there
is no movement, there are isolated artists working and that’s good. I
only know two who speak of the reality, El Sexto and me.
The difference between El Sexto and me and that he takes an essentially
political posture and has declared war against Fidel Castro. That is his
posture and I respect it. He does totally political work, he is an
activist, while I dialog with the public through art and a more
elaborate style with a certain lyricism. My work isn’t linked to anyone,
I defend my opinion, I like art and I self-finance everything I need to
do this work.
If right now El Sexto and I quit it’s hard to find others who, in a
serious and constant way, see this as an artistic expression. Once we
tried a collective painting in El Cerro, but people from the government
appeared with their story of counterrevolution and cut off everything.
Rodriguez. I’ve never had problems, but once in a while they send out
the police. Working in the street is very sensitive, but I believe it
had to open up. The Cuban cinema, for example, is showing the reality in
a more raw way and they have had to let them because it can’t go against
reality. When I came out with these visual chronicles it was the best,
because I had already had a small opening, bit by bit. Now things can no
longer be hidden like before.
Escobar. Have you ever slept in a cell because of your art?
Rodriguez. For me that is a mystery, because they have sent out three
police patrols and nothing happens. They came predisposed and, when they
got out of the car, and looked at the piece and listened to my
explanation, they called on the radio and said, “the boy isn’t doing
cartoons, it has nothing to do with politics.”
So far they have let me go. The only time there was friction with the
police was at the Villa Panamerica [sports complex]. At the stop I did a
graffiti of people standing on the wall in various awkward situations,
like shouting. That day the order came from above. A woman from the
(Communist) Party had passed by on a “camel” [a kind of urban bus] and
called the police to tell them that I was doing “something
counterrevolutionary.” At the police station they sorted it all out, it
wasn’t even 20 minutes, the same guard told me to get a permit. I
explained that was exactly why I had gone to the streets, because the
permissions are very slow and if you waited for them you would never paint.
Escobar. What are the most frequent places where you have painted?
Rodriguez. I do not invade any place, rather I look for destroyed walls
and places. I try to give them some aesthetic value and thus promote a
future urban art movement.
Escobar. It is common for graffiti to get covered with dabs of paint or
pro-government slogans. Has this happened in the case of your work?
Rodriguez. Most of my graffiti has survived, some of mine has been
painted over by the government, but others have been painted over by
others. I have a stronger enemy than the government, which is
religion. It has already happened several times that Jehovah’s Witnesses
or Christian extremists see in my work diabolical figures and they erase
Escobar. So far, have you only been displayed in the streets or in a
workshop, or have you also managed to hang some artwork in a gallery?
Rodriguez. I participated in some group exhibitions, including one here
at the Central Park Hotel, and a personal one in Light and Crafts. This
year I want to organize a show with the rubble of collapsed buildings,
bringing them to the workshop and painting them. I see the rubble as a
historical document that holds the memory of those buildings where
people lived and suffered in a space of time and they are pieces of our
Escobar. The José Martí Community Workshop, where you do part of your
work belongs to the Prado People’s Council. How does it work?
Rodriguez. I’m in charge of this project that interacts a lot with the
community. We do drawing workshops for children and our doors are always
open for any activity. What I do is I will not allow this to become
trinkets for tourists. We try to maintain works that take off from
sincerity and seriousness. Many people left because they were not
prepared to work on those terms, three or four of us remain. We have
been improving the space with a great deal of our own effort, because it
was in very poor condition.
Escobar. What artists have most influenced the way you carry out your work?
Rodriguez. I agree with Banksy in the way of seeing street art. For
me, street art is a dialogue with the public and my work is that.
Escobar. Is there any work that you remember with particular enthusiasm?
Rodriguez. During the Book Fair, I did a public intervention that is
on my Facebook, where I crossed swimming from one side of the bay to the
other to paint a huge face with no mouth, no ears, no nose, only eyes. I
did it so it can be seen from the far side. Then I swam back to the Malecon.
Source: Yulier Rodríguez Pérez: “We are souls in a purgatory called
Cuba” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar | Translating Cuba –