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La courte échelle 

Guest-curated by Yto Barrada, Mateo Lopez and Carlos Garaicoa

Meriem Bennani, M'Barek Bouhchichi, Yaima Carrazana, Johanna Castillo, Juliana Góngora,

Dania González, José Manuel Mesias, Mazenett Quiroga and Santiago Reyes Villaveces

Online viewing room

July 1 to August 8, 2020

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José Manuel Mesias

Céspedes’s soliloquies, 2016 

Mule taxidermy, chess set and straps

135 x 75 x 181 cm

Courtesy of the artist and El Apartamento Gallery, Havana

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The Father of the Cuban Nation, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, spent his last days confined in the mountains of eastern Cuba after being illegally removed from the presidency of the Republic in Arms. The pages of his diary are filled with the most passionate reflections about his life, his role in history, his enemies, the revolution and many symbolic images that resemble his sensation of a close fatal ending.


The piece is a metaphor of his agony and loneliness, of the recurrent failure in our history caused by an evil that comes from inside. The siamese mules presented as a historical relic may perfectly be taken out from a nightmare of the hero: the corpus of a nation divided under the greater evil of colonialism. In the group, in a strange chess move, the white king is left alone by his own in reference to how Céspedes was left alone by the Cubans to be killed by the Spaniards. 


Mesías uses his immediate environment as a source of inspiration both in terms of subject, concept and material matter. His work finds its roots in the historical and contemporary context. He takes notable moments from history and re-contextualizes them, combining them with actual moments and more intimate events. He believes that his large-format paintings exude a silence and mystery that envelopes viewers. On the contrary his expressionistic portraits and small creations vibrate with rich textures, spontaneity and rhythmic poetry. Mesías aims to capture urban beauty and simultaneous deterioration in his works; he seeks to portray the same anxiety and marvel he experiences through his everyday life and that, he argues, the world provokes in equal amounts. 

His recent appearance at the Havana Biennale featured his Room of time where eleven pocket watches belonging to controversial and heroic figures of Cuban history, were aligned in a wooden elliptical room. The making of these museum-like scenarios and relics is regular in his practice as to question the legitimacy of official history and how a notion of nationality and identity is built in today ́s Cuba. 

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