critical texts


Alicia Leal: from the window
David Mateo
While I contemplate Alicia Leal’s work I feel deeply affected by the immanence of a certainty: the best of Cuban painting created by women is overthrowing —with great self-assurance—, all the apparent virility the historic projection of the existential discourse was characterized by. Her paintings corroborate the fact that what began as something absolutely unusual within the artistic work is becoming an unlimited power, an unquestionable authority on the vast, very complex field of allegory and even the common sense. However, the interesting thing about this leaning she represents so well is that every time there it is less justified on basis of an arbitrary validation of the sexual ascendant or the supposed prerogatives this prerogative infers in the cultural order. We are talking basically about an attitude towards the creation that aims to be much more reserved and sensible, that —even when it has not stopped validating all the existing rhetorical fund about women’s liberation—, it has made at the same time the resolution to go beyond it once and for all...; and what a better way to do it than contributing to widen the generic sense of the artistic perception, adding new nuances, and even new social missions within the representative universe of experience.

It is true that almost all of her works revolve around the subconscious, but the roots of her arguments are settled within the thorough analysis of the Cuban context, in which woman tends to occupy a leading role. But it so happens that this leading role does not presupposes the typical sensation of surprise that the condition of a woman spirituality withdrawn or forced to live within circumstances similar to the eternal penance has always generated. Delving into some of her creations, we will discover really paradigmatic images: for instance, an acrobat putting in a lot of effort in her circus show despite the impassive look of the spectators, a maiden exposing herself to the charge of a pack in a supreme attempt—perhaps unachievable—, to save her life and the life of her love, or a pregnant woman that levitates, while from her heart, possibly separated from her body, the blood pumps toward the child; although in my opinion, one of the her most suggestive images is that in which the artist herself —thus legitimizing the idea of a possible coincidence with the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo—, appears besides her bearing a sword, an insignia that could perfectly represent her emphasis on her personal determination.

Wheresoever Alicia places the silhouette of a woman —either in images referred to the mythical universe of the Island or to the inextricable family and couple relation—, she almost always gives the woman the privilege of being the center and the inspiring metaphor of the narrative structure, the reason and resource of the fantastic episodes she recreates, and above all things, she makes her enjoy of a faculty, a power that belongs to her beforehand by nature and the only foundation of which seems to be given by the woman’s ability to be compassionate and give support to others. One morning we were talking about this subject, and I heard she put forward the following comment: “The Cuban society is profoundly matriarchal. All the different conflicts we face in our daily routine revolve around this supposition, which not only forces women to think in a different way, but also —not surprisingly—, to have diametrically opposed experiences. These experiences are the ones I am interested in recreating artistically, which does not mean I agree with the controversy between feminine and masculine art. I do not believe in that kind of false demarcations. It is just two perspectives that are different, but not conflicting”.

Of course, the appropriation of canons of the popular painting has not been an accident in the case of Alicia Leal. She got to know them at the end of her studies at the San Alejandro Academy of Art during the 80s and it was also complemented by a prolific creative period of her workmate and husband Juan Moreira, called “Magic Realism”. That was an indispensable period for defining what would become her most recurrent painting style. For this, she had to perform drastic changes in her artistic leanings and draw as a conclusion that even when she was interested in understanding the different intellectual event of her time and their influence on the apparent chaos of private affairs, the German expressionism —the pictorial system most suitable for her sensibility and temperament—, was not very popular those days. Intuitively, she began to take then from the popular painting that certain license she needed to face the anarchy of fantasy and the placid weather and somewhat bucolic of her environments.

After an atmosphere of intertwining, easy to apply for a well-trained artist as she is, in the art of research, she started to add a collection of artistic codes taken from the Byzantine religious painting and the Middle Ages, in regards to the treatment of color and the composition of levels, until getting to this work with a surrealistic kind she today exhibits and in which you can sense besides the emanations of a personality as enigmatic as Leonora Carrington. But Alicia has been so careful in the combination of those notions and styles taken from international and Cuban heritage, that her work in a very short time has been able to evolve towards the circles of universal references, no needing to sweeten or relinquish to genuinely Cuban rudiments like the religious conviction, sensuality, syncretism, the poetic hyperbole, the figurative language, eroticism, and even humor.


David Mateo, art critic