A chinese man passes through Venice on his way to Cuba

Laura Salas Redondo

For the duration of the 57th Art Biennial of Venice (May 8 – November 26, 2017), the ICI Venice presented, in the independent space, the solo show of artist Susana Pilar Delahante: Un chino de paso por Venecia, camino a Cuba (A Chinese Man Passes Through Venice On His Way To Cuba). The showcase in this atypical space underlined the continuation of a very personal investigation in which the artist involves the viewer in her search for the memories of her Chinese great-great-grandfather, who arrived in Cuba in the late 19th century.

“Un chino llega a Matanzas…” (2015-2017). Instalación: tinta sobre seda, lámparas de papel, entrevistas a familiares, piso color rojo RAL 3016, dimensiones variables

Exchanges and migrations have been highly important for the development and consolidation of local cultures in all periods of world history.

The central piece of the showcase Un chino de paso por Matanzas… compels the viewer to penetrate the group memory of the artist’s family through text, sound, color, and textures; reconstructing a past and rescuing the accumulated knowledge of several generations. The piece traces a sensory path through the reading of the poem in progress since 2015[1] by the artist for her ancestor, Arcadio Chang. They also hear dialogues with her relatives in Matanzas, with her mother, and with researchers who try to reconstruct the history of her family and its origins. Her family members’ voices whisper and create the body of the installation. The memories of her Chinese great-grandfather who migrated to Matanzas are heard.

This installation highlights the insufficiently known Chinese influence in Cuba, where social mixing and transculturation are key elements of society. The writing of Susana’s poem for her great-great-grandfather before, during, and after the exhibition – a poem in perpetual progress – is remindful of the creation of a film without end. The poems, handwritten in Chinese ink on silk bands arranged in the space, are a tribute to him and to all Chinese immigrants. The floor, as part of the installation, has the same shade of red as the ruins of the Unión de Reyes Casino in Matanzas where the Chinese community gathered, and where Arcadio probably went to play Mah Jong and smoke opium.

At the entrance, a series of light boxes entitled Lo que contaba la abuela… (As Told by Grandmother…) portray the ancestor through the stories of women in her family.

On the day of the exhibit opening, Susana presented the performance Dibujo intercontinental (Intercontinental Drawing), in which, for almost an hour, she tried to pull a boat tied to her torso. The gesture of pain caused by the effort, the pressure, and the cold frightened and at the same time sensitized everyone in the Campo San Simeon Grande.

“Un chino llega a Matanzas…” (2015-2017). Instalación: tinta sobre seda, lámparas de papel, entrevistas a familiares, piso color rojo RAL 3016, dimensiones variables

The book made by Susana herself with the handwritten poem was available in a library nearby, along with documents about the artist and books of research at the Ca’Foscari University in Venice about the Chinese migrations. The latter is closely related to the cultural exchange undertaken by ICI Venice, which finds resonance in the reality of Venice and of the world.

Fragments of lost stories, voyages into the tired minds of her family members who try to remember, taking their minds back to childhood places known only to them, which they were willing to share, exposing the character in question to the inevitable oblivion. Interwoven memories, words said, words unsaid… a history with many distortions and aspects still to be discovered.

[1] La instalación se presentó por primera vez  en noviembre de 2015 en el espacio Arte Continua, en el Barrio Chino de La Habana, durante la exposición colectiva Anclados en el territorio.

Cortesía de la artista y de Galleria Continua San Gimignano/ Beijing/ Les Moulins/ Habana
Fotografía de Oak Taylor Smith 

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