Yoan Capote

This review of Yoan Capote’s show at Galleria Continua, San Gimignano appeared in Italian translation in Flash Art Italia:

Yoan Capote, Isla (penumbra), 2019. Photo: Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio.

At the start of his 1943 poem “La isla en peso” [“The Weight of the Island”], Cuban writer Virgilio Piñera evokes the curse of being surrounded on all sides by water, likening it to a cancer. The same sense of entrapment is palpable in Yoan Capote’s Isla series, six of which are displayed around the front gallery room looking out onto the central Piazza della Cisterna. Except for Isla (mare nostrum) (all works 2019), whose four panels depict a stormy sea by night, these discrete canvases are aligned along their respective horizon lines. In a variation on the familiar seascape genre – with a twist – each conveys a different mood, time of day and pictorial traditions ranging from Japanese woodblock prints to Caspar David Friedrich’s landscape paintings. Seen from up close, the mostly dark wave patterns that blend in with the thick brushstrokes applied onto the canvas dissolve into a multitude of tiny fish hooks studded with nails – an Iron Curtain of sorts to the Wall that is the sea girding the island.

The weight of Cuba’s history and ideology pressing down on the eponymous “missing subject” is felt above all in the concrete sculptural pieces spread across three smaller adjoining gallery spaces. In the twin Lastre (I) and Lastre (II), the stripes of the American and Cuban flags are conveyed through rusty vertical bars tied with barbed wire and anchored by concrete slabs in the shape of a square for the one and an equilateral triangle for the other. Gilded bronze casts of the femur or thigh bone – the strongest in the human body – in Autorretrato (estudio de resistencia) and of sets of teeth strung together along a single slanted line in Stress (desplazados) are caught between two sizeable and extremely heavy blocks of polished concrete. Each in its own way is a self-portrait; indeed, the artist is present in the titles and the anatomical features that these works foreground.

Two other pieces involving multiple life-size hands and faces cast in bronze struck me as more formulaic and lacking the force of the works in the Isla series. For Abstinencia (derechos), Capote moulded eight hands of strangers spelling the individual letters of the titular derechos (“rights”) in sign language. Thwarted means of linguistic communication and the absence of such basic human rights as the freedom of expression also underpin the Speechless – series featuring seven partial face moulds – from the nose tip to the chin – that protrude from bronze cubes mounted onto the wall and displayed side by side as in the case of Abstinencia (derechos); the gaping mouths have been stuffed with pieces of paper tissue, their white colour contrasting with the darkness of the bronze material. Extending the compact mass of the sculpture out into the gallery space, these are the only insubstantial, weightless element in a show that can occasionally feel somewhat heavy-handed.