It is very early in the morning. The grass is covered with cold, dense dew. We haven’t even moved a hundred metres and my boots and trousers are already drenched and cold. The morning mist has turned my legs into two moving blades of grass. I try to walk as fast as I can and not to shiver, and I long for the sun to come up and make everything evaporate. An hour later, like we do every morning, we are all standing to attention like soldiers, each one of us facing an infinite furrow of exuberant tobacco plants. With our hoes in our left hands, we all shout in unison: “We will be like Che”. The tobacco plants and the weeds around them remain inert; our cry does not even move one leaf. Our voices quickly dissolve into what is worse in each morning: to work in silence.
However, today I hear the same instruction, like a continuous, infinite echo that refuses to leave its cave. Throughout all those years I learnt how to differentiate the voices of my companions and today I manage to break the unison. I hear each of them separately and I am able to recognise each one of our faces as well as our minuscule bodies.
Who amongst us is like the Che? No-one!
Who wants to be like the Che?
No-one! Who would have wanted to be like the Che? No-one! - Diango Hernández, 2013
Diango Hernández’s work associates personal and collective memory, blurring the line between conflicting poetic and political points of view. Born in Cuba and now living in Düsseldorf, Germany, after having travelled throughout the world, Hernández has acquired a reversed perspective on colonialism and political structures. As an outsider everywhere, as much in Cuba as in Europe, he brings his own experience as a product of a communist education. Thus, he believes that all art is autobiographical but also incorporates the collective organised structures that give shape to history.
His upcoming show at Marlborough Contemporary, comprising all new works, draws on his past experience while growing up in Cuba. For example, when children reached 12 years of age, they would be sent to a boarding school until they were 18; in the morning, the students worked in tobacco fields and studied in the afternoon. They were learning to be New Men and New Women, or so they were told. The teenagers were given quotations of Che, such as the one that triggered the mapping out of this show: ‘To build communism it is necessary, simultaneous with the new material foundations, to build the new man and woman... Revolutionaries will come who will sing the song of the new man and woman in the true voice of the people...’ (Che Guevara)
Creating a new man and a new woman, as a utopian concept, wasn’t only perpetuated by communist regimes. It comes thus as no surprise that Hernández mixes references in this show and also alludes to Germany and Italy’s fascist past. The, drawings in the show feature textured, images due to the particular treatment of graphite on wood. The source of these is a German porcelain factory catalogue of the 30’s, Allach, a low cost factory that produced appealing porcelains, accessible to every house, due to concentration camp labour.
On the other hand, Hernández also goes back to the architectural structure of the boarding schools in Cuba which share striking affinities with a project by the Italian architect Castiglioni. Uncannily, the architect created an ‘H’ shaped maquette for a fascist building for his Milan Polytechnic exam. Of course, it was an understated critique of the regime as the material suggests: it was made out of cheese slices. Inspired by this contradictory coincidence of a building containing the seeds of rebellion, and the communist educational system in the other - in Cuba, each leg of the ‘H’ was for each gender, girls and boys would meet in the middle section to study - Diango Hernández will create a maquette of his own.
The New Man and the New Woman at Marlborough Contemporary will be Diango Hernández’s first solo exhibition in the U.K. Hernández will have a solo show in Mostyn, Wales, and in Kunstverein Nürnberg, Germany in 2014. Hernández’s work has been included in many group shows in international institutions such as MOMA in New York and the Hayward Gallery in London, and has been presented at the 2005 Venice Biennale, the 2006 Biennales in São Paulo and Sydney and the 2010 Liverpool Biennial. A major solo exhibition was shown at MART, Roveretto, in 2012.
All images courtesy of Marlborough Contemporary, Photographer: Anne Pöhlmann.