Arts & Entertainment

Exhibit of artwork by the mentally disabled opens in Miami

By Jorge Ignacio Perez

Miami, Feb 4 (EFE).- Forty works by artists recovering from mental illnesses were put on public display Friday at the Kendall Art Center in Miami, an exhibition in which text serves as both central motif and an essential aesthetic element.

Titled “The Language Game,” this exhibit presented by the Miami-based National Art Exhibitions of the Mentally Ill (NAEMI) explores an aspect of so-called “outsider art” that dates back to 1919.

“If you look at it, including texts in the collages is very contemporary and yet they’ve been doing this since 1919, as shown in the book ‘Artistry of the Mentally Ill’ by (German psychiatrist) Hans Prinzhorn,” Cuban-American Juan Martin, NAEMI’s executive director, told Efe during a tour of the exhibit.

“We wanted to put on this exhibition to further discussion of the importance of ‘outsider’ art within present-day contemporary art, which is something that tends to be ignored,” said the collector, who has purchased and displayed these types of works since 1989.

Martin said he spent more than a year seeking a gallery for this exhibit, which includes paintings and installations by artists from the United States, Spain and Cuba, 99 percent of which had never before been publicly displayed.

The Kendall Art Center, a warehouse-turned-art gallery owned by Cuban-born American businessman Leonardo Rodriguez and located near an executive airport in southern Miami, eventually provided that venue.

“‘The Language Game’ exhibition proposes works that play a game with language, a game that expands para-literary inquiries. In these works, text is the central motif, acting not only as a poetic entity, but also as an essential aesthetic element,” curator Lyle Rexer said in a blurb published on the Kendall Art Center’s website.

The works include pen drawings, watercolors, collages, an installation featuring a antique telephone booth and a vanity case that hangs from the ceiling and has the text “Los sueños de hoy” (Today’s Dreams) attached to it.

“The curator and I were very intrigued at how these people worked with text,” said Martin, the founder of an organization that has 1,200 works of “outsider” art in its permanent collection and is seeking a partner for art exchanges.

One work in the exhibition by Cuban artist Misleidys Castillo is a mixed technique on paper titled “Meieoaof” that shows an androgynous, muscular figure with the body of a man and a female face, apparently of some animal.

“We noted that she always included the letters E, A and N in her works, which initially only featured the bodies of men. Her mother still doesn’t know what these letters mean,” Martin said of an artist who has “severe psychiatric problems” and is deaf-mute.

During the tour, Martin stopped in front of a telephone booth that was “intervened” by Cuban artist Jorge Alberto Hernandez Cadi, known artistically as “El buzo.”

“Agilizar el desastre,” a work in which the artist adds an assortment of texts to an old public telephone, is an installation on pedestal that the collector said has proved quite difficult to transport.

Alongside it is another piece by Hernandez Cadi featuring a stack of books with new titles stuck to the outside of their spines, including “Guerra psicologica inconclusa” (Inconclusive Psychological War) and “¡Cuidado, puede ser CULTURA!” (Careful. This May Be CULTURE!”).

“The Cry, My Chaos to Me,” by American artist Bill Seeger, is a parody of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s famed work “The Scream.”

Rodriguez, meanwhile, told Efe his favorite work is a collage by American artist Candice Avery titled “Survival of the Fittest,” a reference to the well-known phrase that originated from 19th-century English naturalist Charles Darwin’s theory of biological evolution.

“It’s not that we’re all crazy, but that the passion these artists put into what they do can inspire someone who’s never made art to become a creator,” he said. EFE


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