The artist duo Guerra de la Paz is comprised of Alain Guerra and Neraldo de la Paz, both Cuban-born, U.S.-educated, and Miami-based. While their joint moniker is, on the one hand, simply a combination of their last names, it also has a deeper resonance, since it literally translates as "War of Peace." As befits such a name, the two are unafraid to tackle big, serious themes, and they do so with dignity and panache.
The centerpiece of Guerra de la Paz's current exhibition is a monumental cubic installation entitled Unidentified. Measuring 10' x 10' x 10', the cube is defined on its four vertical sides by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire and razor wire. The space within the fence is tightly packed with found clothing that elegantly symbolizes the oppressed multitudes. The colors of the garments have been strategically chosen and placed so as to obtain an impressive painterly effect. With a limited palette of beiges, pinks, browns, grays, and reds, the clothes suggest human flesh, complete with veins and arteries. The bright red clothes in particular play an important role as they bulge through the fence and bleed violently down to the gallery floor on all four sides.
The barbed wire seen in industrial/art districts—such as Wynwood in Miami or Chelsea in New York—is typically used to keep trespassers out of a space. However in this case the barbed wire is keeping the clothes – and the metaphoric people they represent – encaged within, as in a prison, or a death camp.
Knowing that the artists are both from Cuba (and being of Cuban heritage myself) I cannot help but read this piece as a metaphor for the island of Cuba, and the way that the Castro regime has long denied the Cuban people freedom of movement. However, the artists have not included any specific markers of geography or cultural context, which allows the work to be read formally and poetically, as a portrayal of universal experiences of oppression—wherever, whenever, and however it exists. It may bring to mind the Nazi Holocaust, or the genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur. Closer to home, it may recall the U.S. prison at Guantánamo, or the electrified fence that Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain has "joked" about installing along the U.S./México border.
Complementing the central installation are several beautifully evocative photographic prints, each of which depicts an item of clothing hanging forlornly from barbed wire on a chain-link fence. The clothing in these images signifies the suffering of the individual, as opposed to the suffering of the masses in Unidentified. The photographs are especially striking in that they are printed on a new medium—archival acrylic glass with an aluminum backing—that gives them a crisp and very appropriate metal-on-metal look. In addition, they have been selected and hung so that vast expanses of the gallery walls are left unadorned, adding to the sense of desolation.
Kudos to Guerra de la Paz for this tight and hauntingly powerful exhibition.
~Eduardo Alexander Rabel, an artist and writer living in Miami.
Images: Guerra de la Paz, Unidentified, 2011, found garments, chain-link fence, barbed wire, and razor wire, 10 x 10 x 10 feet, photo credit Javier Castro; 11 from Barbed series, 2010, C-Print on archival acrylic glass, 40 x 30 Inches. Courtesy Praxis International Art.