'Fabelo's Anatomy' Is Worthy of an Embargo
If you're looking for a way to be put off your breakfast, try reading the Cuba Assets Control Regulations from the U.S. Department of the Treasury over coffee. Installed after Fidel Castro defeated the corrupt Batista regime in Cuba, seized U.S. businesses exploiting the country's resources and began to nationalize them, the legislated embargos increased after the Bay of Pigs, tightening and relaxing over the next decades, depending on who was in the White House.
Done under the aegis of protecting human rights, the current regime remains embargoed all these decades later. Nowadays headed by Castro's brother, Raúl, it has many prisoners of conscience, routinely censors its media and restricts many freedoms, but the hypocrisy is that we've normalized relations with countries that have far worse human-rights records. China, for example, is a country that shoots its protesters down in the streets, and there's barely a whisper, lest it affect our business dealings. The majority of Americans—from both political parties—think the laws should disappear; that they haven't can be blamed on spineless Democrats and Republicans whose campaign coffers profit from conservative Cuban expat money.
One of the few allowances the Department of the Treasury has is that art can be exported (and imported) . . . so long as it doesn't directly benefit the Cuban government. That single bright light allows curator Juan Delgado Calzadilla and the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) to host "Fabelo's Anatomy," more than 50 odd paintings, drawings, watercolors and sketches from one of the island's most revered artists, Roberto Fabelo.
And when I say "odd," that's not an understatement. In Meditation In the Garden of the Night (2014), a Rubenesque woman in spiked heels, bird wings strapped to her naked back, is painted onto a canvas of embroidered silk, with needlework flowers drifting over the crouching figure like pink-tinted snow. Fabelo's women have wings, but don't confuse them with angels; they carry weapons—table forks, long needles—and wear hollowed-out bird's heads as helmets. Half The Secret World of Arrietty, half Epic, the women are tiny warriors, albeit soldiers sitting astride a rooster, one squeezing the nipple of the other (feel free to think of Gabrielle d'Estrées et une de ses sœurs or insert cheap "riding a big cock" joke); in a line next to fishhooks the size of their torsos, staring at fish (Baroque Seafront, 2012); or standing behind a row of colorful plumed birds (Women of One Hundred Years of Solitude, 2007).
The BBW cosplay fetishism wears out its welcome after just a few glances, the variation in imagery limited enough that whatever magic exists becomes redundant. Save a few moments of shock when the artist portrays woman as objects to be consumed—whether subtly naming four figures after things you would eat (2012's Vanilla, Strawberry, Marshmallow, and Mint) or, more directly, skewering three of them as though cooked escargot (Delicatessen Skewer, 2012)—this nerd wet dream doesn't add anything to our continuing discussion about men and women.
There are some more nude female figures, this time stared at by men in a series of pen-and-ink drawings, using pages ripped from old anatomy books as the canvas. Incorporating illustrations of cross-sectioned internal organs as faces, backgrounds and props, Fabelo draws around them and over them, giving his men (satyrs and male animals) fierce red hard-ons, but these small comic ink drawings, weird as they are, lend the overall exhibition more variety than the larger paintings. Described as a Cuban Daumier (or Bosch) in the press materials, based on the work examples here, I don't see the artist's connection to the French caricaturist or Dutch painter. It's safe to say that bird-headed women aren't celebrating feminist dreams or female empowerment, and the work, weird as it is, doesn't really reflect a Boschian hell. It's simply more about a man who likes looking at naked chicks.
For work with more subtext, social commentary and wonder, it's Fabelo's previous work—available in the electronic portfolio at the foyer—that really grabs the attention: a head sculpted from used oil-paint tubes—curled tubes for hair, caps for eyes—resting atop an old, worn book; doll heads poking out from the inside of open artillery shells; there's a veritable mountain of pots and pans; faces etched into cooking utensils blackened from use; decorated dinnerware the height of a human being; a painting of a sailor and his dog in a tiny boat, floating in a soup pan, overflowing into another pan, then another; balls made from bones, cutlery or bullet casings; piles of shit on an antique scale, with a nearby spoon inviting the viewer to take a taste. While I'd likely have nightmares I could never recover from if they did it, MOLAA ought to get its hands on some of Fabelo's horrific human-headed cockroaches. If I saw those scuttling up the side of its building, I might rethink that Bosch comparison.
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