"The Scream" Linocut by Carlos Barberena
"La Mirada Incisiva de Carlos Barberena"
Por Luis Fernando Vargas Vega / ANCORA, La Nación
En la Galería Nacional el artista nicaragüense exhibe su colección ‘Master Prints’, grabados que reflexionan sobre problemas del siglo XXI.
Carlos Barberena viaja a la historia del arte y vuelve con grabados en los que recrea obras maestras afinadas para nuestro tiempo. Aquí apreciamos The Jungle (after Lam), alusión a una pintura del cubano Wilfredo Lam.
En el siglo XV, el pintor y grabador alemán Alberto Durero representó la llegada del fin de los tiempos en Los cuatro jinetes del Apocalipsis (1498). Un poco más de quinientos años después, el artista Carlos Barberena remite a la misma idea –es más, al mismo grabado –; pero, esta vez, el Apocalipsis es liderado por Mickey Mouse, los nazis, Ronald McDonald y las bombas nucleares.
La reinterpretación contemporánea de la pieza de Durero pertenece al más reciente proyecto de Barberena: la exposición Master Prints , una colección de veintitrés grabados que surgen de la “apropiación” de obras clásicas del arte.
“Quise hacer un homenaje a estos maestros y procuré traer su obra al tiempo en que vivimos. ¿Cómo hubiese hecho esa pieza el artista si estuviera viviendo actualmente?”, dice el creador de la colección que se empezó a gestar en el 2009.
El artista somete la obra de referencia a un proceso de intervención con imágenes e iconos de la cultura contemporánea. Su transgresión pretende brindar un nuevo significado a la pieza, adaptándola a los temas que imperan en la sociedad globalizada.
Con sátira y cierto humor negro, Master Prints aborda los problemas de la contaminación ambiental, la mala explotación de los recursos naturales, el consumismo y las dificultades de las poblaciones migrantes. “Es como un juego. Utilizo la sátira para atraer a la gente, pero planteo algo muy serio”, afirma Barberena.
La McMona es una reinterpretación del siglo XXI de la Mona Lisa (1503-1519), obra de Leonardo Da Vinci. Barberena explica que los temas de la pieza son la muerte y el consumismo. El título juega con los significados de la letra M, que aquí representan la muerte y a la vez a una cadena de comida rápida.
“En los Estados Unidos, el consumo de la comida chatarra causa obesidad y demasiadas enfermedades”, comentó el artista acerca de su obra, que toma como referente el arte tradicional de la celebración mexicana del día de los muertos.
Exilio y otras peripecias. Barberena nació en Nicaragua en 1972. Salió de su país siendo un adolescente, hacia Costa Rica, para escapar de la guerra interna ocurrida durante la década de 1980. Más tarde emigró a Chicago, donde vive. “A partir de mi propia experiencia, al ser inmigrante nicaragüense y residir en Estados Unidos, salen las críticas que hago al sistema consumista y las políticas neoliberales que se aplican a los países latinoamericanos”, asegura el grabador.
Desde muy pequeño, Barberena tuvo un contacto permanente con el arte. Proviene de una familia de tradición artística: su abuela fue poetisa, y sus hermanos, artistas visuales. La estimulación temprana en el arte terminó de desarrollarse con su llegada a Costa Rica y su encuentro con el trabajo de Francisco Amighetti.
El Niño y la Nube (after Amighetti) refleja el fuerte impacto que Paco Amighetti ejerce en Barberena. El grabado original muestra a un niño que mira nubes, imaginando y creando. La apropiación de Barberena interviene la imagen colocando una pared inmensa. “La reinterpreté pensando en mi caso: un refugiado que no podía ir a su país; esa pared tapaba el sueño del niño de seguir jugando en su tierra”, reflexiona el artista.
Aún con el peso de la tradición familiar y su gran interés en el arte, Barberena decidió que la academia no era lo suyo. “La sentía muy cuadrada. A veces, un profesor me decía que mi trabajo no servía y rompía mi dibujo”, afirma el grabador, quien optó por ser autodidacta y por asistir a clases en los museos y galerías.
Barberena destaca la variedad de sus influencias. Por un lado, resaltan los artistas clásicos europeos, como Alberto Durero, Francisco de Goya y Pablo Picasso. Tampoco deja de lado la influencia latinoamericana: es admirador del grabador mexicano José Guadalupe Posada y los pintores nicaragüenses Armando Morales y Leonel Vanegas .
Transgresión y reconfiguración. La apropiación es el centro de la muestra Master Prints . Carlos Barberena no trata de ocultar sus referencias, sino hacerlas explícitas. El artista quiere llamar la atención del espectador para que reconozca a primera vista la obra clásica que intervino con elementos contemporáneos.
El método de Barberena es transgredir el contexto de la obra para cambiar su significado, convirtiéndola en algo nuevo a pesar de utilizar el mismo título y la misma composición que el artista original.
En El grito (after Munch) , el artista trata de responder al porqué de la angustia y la desesperación del hombre moderno de la icónica obra El grito (1893), creada por el noruego Edvard Munch.
“Inserté un hongo de una explosión nuclear, la contaminación y los barcos militares. Quise dar una respuesta a las personas, mi interpretación de lo que veo en El grito ”, explica el autor de la pieza.
Barberena se ha expresado por varios medios: instalación, pintura y escultura; sin embargo, se enamoró del grabado. “Es una técnica que produce múltiples originales; entonces, las ideas llegan a un público más amplio en comparación con la pintura”, afirma el artista.
Los grabados que conforman Master Prints fueron elaborados por medio de dos técnicas. La primera es la xilografía, una forma de impresión que utiliza una plancha de madera en la que se talla la imagen deseada con una gubia; la segunda técnica es su variante: el grabado en linóleo, técnica en la que se sustituye la plancha de madera por una porción de linóleo, material blando y uniforme utilizado para revestir suelos.
“La xilografía o el linóleo dan más libertad; puede usarse un pedazo de playwood e imprimirse en un papel de grabado o en un papel de periódico; además, existe la posibilidad de utilizar una prensa o imprimir a mano, con cuchara. Entonces no hay ninguna traba u obstáculo para producir la obra”, asegura Carlos Barberena.
Además de la facilidad, el artista encuentra, en el grabado clásico, un encanto estético. Asegura que el contraste que hay entre el blanco y el negro brinda una expresividad muy propia de sus temas.
Master Prints es más que un homenaje a aquellos artistas que han influido en Carlos Barberena. La exhibición invita a reflexionar sobre los problemas presentes en la sociedad y a hacer un recorrido por la historia del arte.
No son muy diferentes los sentimientos y las preocupaciones que vivió Durero en el siglo XV y los que vive Barberena: la diferencia está en que, para el último, la caída del ser humano será grabada y estará disponible en diferentes puntos de venta.
Carlos Barberena ha expuesto individualmente en Costa Rica, España, México, Nicaragua y los Estados Unidos. En representación del arte nicaragüense concurrió a Una mirada al grabado Iberoamericano en el XIII Salón de Arte en el Centro Cultural Mexicano en Washington.
Barberena también participó en la VIII Trienal de la Estampa y el Grabado Original, en Chamalieres, Francia. Ha estado presente en la exhibición Les Saltimbanques, en homenaje a Gustave Doré, en el Museo de Arte Roger-Quilliot MARQ, de Francia.
Ha sido galardonado con el Premio Nacional de la Estampa 2012, otorgado por el Instituto Nicaragüense de Cultura en Managua, Nicaragua.
"Ofrenda" Linocut by Carlos Barberena
"Ofrenda / Offering" (after Gauguin) is my linocut included in the "Thresholds to Conservation" Print Portfolio published by the Art House in McAllen, TX in 2009.
"Thresholds to Conservation" is the first Rio Grande Valley Collaborative printmaking portfolio produced in response to a call for artist, printmakers, and educators by Reynaldo Santiago, curator at the Art House Gallery in McAllen, Texas. Invited to participate in the portfolio are a unique group of international and local artists who have interpreted images, each with a specific message, based on the title via a variety of printmaking techniques. All prints are original, hand pulled, and signed by the artist.
novus order seclorum ut patet in fixuras de Carlos Barberena /
The New World Order as Shown on the Prints of Carlos Barberena
*By Leticia Cortez / El Beisman Magazine - Chicago
It is a pleasure to try something new and in this case to review a show and its works of art via the medium of the Internet. Thanks to this new technology, everyone has access to events across the world or in this case to view the prints of Carlos Barberena at Prospectus Art Gallery in Chicago. Before going on to describe the disturbing, yet spectacular conceptual landscapes found in his prints, one can reflect on the presence the Internet plays in our lives. In this case it does so in a positive way allowing the viewer to cross physical barriers and experience his works of art, and the message within it. It allows any person to cross the space and time we are usually confined to by the physical matter. So I turned on the computer and went to the website, and began to see and take in what he portrays in his prints. I started with his website’s gallery of master prints from: Who Lives By The Sword… to Ceci nest pas une pipe, and everything in between. What is captivating in the beauty of his work are his combination of images which unveil a nightmarish world of past historical events; from ancient to present times.
Barberena uses images from pop culture, from present and past day societies, as well as from political and cultural tragedies. He uses past artworks and manipulates them to recontextualize the meaning from a present day point of view. By examining the elements that are destroying our culture, society and people; while exploring our complicity with such forces. The viewer is never let off the hook. We are living in a McDonald’s dominated society as the McMona and the McShitter show us. The Refugees is a print depicting a group of refugees fleeing their homeland for reasons unknown and approaching the land of McDonald’s. It is the familiarity of present day items found in his prints that awaken us to the reality or nightmare this reality has become.
In Frijoles y Fusiles there is a sinister Uncle Sam-like general with cadavers in the background flying all around, including one flying toward the US flag in the shape of a heart. The general is Efrain Ríos, who is holding the bible of Frijoles y Rifles (Guns and Beans) and the words Ríos de Sangre Montt (Montt Rivers of Blood) emblazoned on the banner by his waist. This symbolizes the reign of terror after the dictator assumed power with the help of the U.S. in the coup d’etat in 1982, which is known as the “Gun and Beans” killing campaign. During his dictatorship, he is known to have killed around 10,000 people, mostly indigenous Mayas of Ixil descent. Trained by the infamous School of the Americas, he was supported by the Reagan Administration; so he is known to be one of Uncle Sam’s nephew. He was recently tried for crimes against humanity and genocide and was sentenced to 80 years in prison, but the constitutional court of Guatemala overturned the conviction.
Transcending the U.S., Barberena examines injustices occurring in the world due to the behavior of the imperial powers and the First World. One is The Palestinian Mother who symbolizes the suffering of the Palestinian people under the oppression of Israel with the sanction of the U.S. The British Prostitute demonstrates Carlos’s capacity to tie the past with the current forces of imperial oppression. There is a fantastic recreation of the Whore of Babylon, a multi-headed beast, who has a surveillance camera as one of its many demonic heads. This of course mirrors our surveillance state through all means possible from cellphones to the Internet, as we all know thanks to Edward Snowden.
In "War is Peace" (named after Orwell’s novel) we find three skeletal figurines. The first skull face with the Mickey Mouse ears is Obama, clutching his Nobel peace prize, even though he continues the military industrial wars. Uncle Sam occupies the center, chest displaying medals from BP, UN, McDonald’s and other corporate symbols. The third is the control mechanism religion, a skeletal priest with a cross, money and horns.
In Prometheus II he shows us the Greek who stole the secret of fire from the gods; and in this case an artist who is being condemned and didn’t expect it. One of my favorites is Ceci nest pas une pipe (This is not a Pipe) which is named after René Magritte’s piece by the same name; except in Barberena’s print the pipe is not a pipe, it’s a gun. So the image of the gun leaves no room for the imagination, there’s no pipe, but plenty of violence via this symbol of death.
In Monsanto he depicts the damage to the environment, to our health, to one of the native and principal staples in our diet: Corn. This print opens with a cornhusk full of skulls inside, quite appropriate for what it symbolizes. And this criminal entity Monsanto is just another profiteer in our history thanks to the US and its trade policies when it comes to business like Chiquita who destroys our land in the name of profits.
In El Niño y la Nube a child looks longingly up towards the sky, the only existing color within his space, and to a cloud, changing shape with his imagination. Depending on our point of view, this can be sad or joyful. The image is very cubist-like including the child who is by a wall. The wall could be any wall in the world; the US/México wall, the Israel/Palestine wall. This barrier is one created and built by some people to keep others out or inside. What the print shows most of all is the child’s desire to one day climb out of his world trap. In his print, Self-Portrait after Van Gogh, the artist depicts himself in the image of Van Gogh. Two artists occupying the same image. There is something hidden, a mirror reflection, a portrayal of what is meant to be hidden; but is open to willing eyes in the peculiar universe where art merges with life.
I’ll end with The Scream adaptation, for no particular reason other than I found it visually frightening and capable of waking anyone out of their apathy. Based on The Scream by Edvard Munch, this version has an exploding nuclear bomb in the background and surroundings images of industry and pollution. The man on the bridge is screaming and the couple is walking away while some people on boats are crossing the waters toward the city. Life goes on, will the viewer wake-up? Carlos Barberena uses his prints to show us the horrors and injustices created by mankind. Besides the visuals, what I enjoy most about his work is that he mixes beauty, politics, history, science in this modern world. His work makes us question our surroundings and ourselves. The prints scream: “I won’t accept this injustice, stop being afraid, wake-up and challenge this new world order.”
*Leticia Cortez. Born in México and grew up in Chicago. She worked as a teacher at Truman College. She is a writer, educator and activist who currently lives and teaches in Santa Fe, Nuevo Mexico
"Venus 2.0" Linocut by Carlos Barberena
In this print I appropriate the iconography and composition of the Botticelli’s painting “The Birth of Venus”, to which I made some adaptations with images that refer to contemporary issues such as environmental pollution, exploitation of natural resources, abuse of power as well the high cost of the wars prompted by our “love” of oil in the “birth” of the twenty-first century.
Carlos Barberena: grafista impresor
Por Luis Fernando Quirós | Revista Experimenta, Madrid, España
Expresa Carlos Barberena que él proviene de una familia de pintores en su natal Nicaragua, creció en un ambiente de estímulos hacia la creatividad, pero también de desesperanza vividos durante el conflicto armado que vivió su país. Al dar sus primeros pasos en el terreno del arte, intentó llevar una exposición a los demás países centroamericanos, con la idea de generar una reflexión sobre esas repercusiones bélicas, pero le fue difícil adaptarse a la pintura, por lo que lo sedujo las posibilidades de que le ofrecía el grabado. En la actualidad vive y trabaja en la ciudad de Chicago, Illinois, fue ahí donde conceptualizó y elaboró la propuesta que exhibe en la Galería Nacional de San José, Costa Rica, titulada Master Prints, en tanto se apropia y reinterpreta piezas emblemáticas de la gráfica universal.
Nos dimos cita en el Centro Nacional de la Cultura (CENAC), San José, al pié de los enormes tanques de agua de la antigua Fabrica Nacional de Licores (FANAL), sede del Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo (MADC), después de haber visitado “Master Prints”, muestra que me impactó por la nitidez de ejecución y cuidada técnica de impresión, además, por supuesto, del lenguaje abordado, en parte apropiado de los maestros y del arsenal de vicisitudes propias que aluden a la vida contemporánea, y a las memorias de su infancia y juventud vividas en el istmo centroamericano. Fue en ese espacio de evocación y provocación por saber más de su trabajo -paralelo al de la muestra allá en la Galería- , además del contacto personal con él, donde logré adentrar en esa visión suya de calidad comunicativa y crítica impregnada a la placa de madera y al linóleo bases para el grabado.
Le pregunté sobre esas emociones que él carga en el instante de grabar el soporte y de ahí la pericia que sólo conquista el trabajo y la investigación constante sobre lo que se sabe hacer. Barberena plantea que el contenido versa –como se dijo-, sobre la idea de apropiarse y reinterpretar, y dejar fluir dicha carga emotiva al empuñar la gubia para que fluya en el trazo. La técnica, señala, siempre es una lucha y conlleva un desafío: en tanto grabar trata con una materia dura, la madera, y al tallar se busca impregnar no solo fuerza, sino también un amplio espectro de matices visuales del claro oscuro y el alto contraste entre el blanco y negro.
En el período de su formación –agrega-, aunque se declara autodidacta, sintió la influencia del Expresionismo alemán, y encontró aquello que buscaba precisamente en la riqueza expresiva de la tinta negra, del tema fuerte, el trazo tosco y el contraste sombrío, por ello declara como una de sus referentes a Kathe kollwitz.
Indagando en él cuál es la idea central al reinterpretar los grabados de grandes maestros de la historia del arte, agrega que grabó esas apropiaciones de artistas que fueron activadores en el desarrollo de su carrera, pero inserta íconos contemporáneos para transmitir un mensaje de la vivencia urbana, la inserción en la cultura actual de los productos tecnológicos, tiempos cuando además nos comportamos como terribles depredadores del ambiente, provocadores de contaminación sónica, visual, atmosférica, además de productores de transgénicos y otras contradicciones.
En el lenguaje de sus grabados -lo que nos dice y cómo lo dice- aborda signos del mercantilismos: marcas reconocidas y símbolos de éxito comercial que influyen profundamente en la vida contemporánea. Hoy se habla de la “macdonalización” de la cultura, el uso de la tecnología incrementa una aparente necesidad del producto como símbolo de estatura social. Aclara que la basura visual irrumpe en el paisaje urbano, donde ya casi no existen árboles, menos bosques; en cambio presenciamos un paisaje de rótulos, histeria y conmoción infundida por las tensiones del mercado y la publicidad por vender más y más.
“A nosotros –agrega el grafista-, en tiempos de infancia, nos tocaba hacer fila para comprar alimentos, hoy se hace para adquirir el “combo”, o el “iPhone” y otros símbolos que subvierten la manera de ser más apegadas a nuestra capacidad adquisitiva, pero, y ahí se vierte la paradoja de estos tiempos, en tanto criticamos las actitudes de esta sociedad consumista, la crítica se nos devuelve y también caemos dentro de esos espejismos.”
Las interrogantes en el encuentro con este joven grabador instigan, se exacerba el deseo de decir, aclarar, ampliar, acotar. ¿Cómo estimula esa sagaz mirada del consumidor actual que somos todos, ya no solo en los países antes llamados centrales, hoy se vuelve real la idea de globalidad de que tanto se habla y se teoriza sobre los signos de la dominación, neocolonización y otras tensiones hegemónicas. Barberena lo elabora con un lenguaje juguetón, pero a la vez crítico. Dice que él aprendió el lenguaje visitando museos, ahí fue cuando se enganchó con el trabajo del grabador mexicano José Guadalupe Posada, conducido por la sátira al hacer critica social a la burguesía, al clero, a la clase política e incluso a las capas poblacionales de menor poder adquisitivo, pues a todos por igual nos va a tocar la muerte.
Él responde que esas visiones y pensamientos alimentaron lo que buscaba decir, intentó elaborar el anzuelo, la interrogante, cuestionarnos hoy por qué usar un determinado ícono, elevar la conciencia del público a través de la reflexión y del juego. Eso es lo que vivimos en la actualidad con nuestra afición por los videos y los “reality shows”.
Dentro de esta perspectiva trazada por Carlos Barberena como grafista, quisiera ampliar la interrogante que abre la espira del tiempo y preguntarle dónde termina el rol del artista -quien motiva una reflexión y cuestionamiento sobre las vivencias actuales-, y dónde empieza el crítico -quien argumenta sus disensos acerca el consumismo, el poder de la visibilidad sobre los medios comunicativos generadores de conciencia en la colectividad. Expresa que él se considera un comentarista social que reinterpreta desde la estética de la forma, para poner crítica y autocrítica desde su propia vivencia, pues por desgracia también cae dentro de ese rol del consumismo.
Sus grabados son realizados con una impresionante técnica e impresión, revelan una profunda observación sobre la obra de los maestros pero agrega el detonante, lo que subvierte el contenido y clave la espinita en la conciencia, traspuesto a la visión clásica del arte de otros tiempos, lo vuelve a veces risorio, lúdico, pero arma que se empuña contra nuestra propia humanidad y existencia. Hace alusión a productos que nos marcan como región, como “Chiquita Banana”, la botella de “Coca Cola” que en vez de referir a la etiqueta “Diet” habla de “Diabetic”, o el símbolo del maíz y la “Monsanto”, productores trasnacionales de transgénicos. Es notable “La McMona (after DaVinci) Linóleo”, pieza subvertida por el signo de la muerte y portadora de la marca de esa cadena de comida rápida.
La idea de la muestra es que el público reflexione de lo que vivimos hoy en día, en la cultura y en la situación de crisis planetaria, fustiga la actitud actual de tener: yo tengo lo último en tecnología, lo último en moda, lo último en diversión, pero no nos percatamos del precio que nos toca pagar, y por otra parte devoramos los bosques, contaminamos los recursos naturales. Carlos Barberena nació en 1972 en tiempos de la dictadura somocista en Nicaragua, llegó al país a los trece años, terminó acá el colegio y emprendió el camino de su perenne autoaprendizaje que lo llevó a Estados Unidos donde vive con su esposa, sus aprendientes y demás colegas del taller de impresión.
Gráfica América at MOLAA
MAR. 3 – SEPT. 1, 2019
I am so honored to be included in “Gráfica América” and be representing the Instituto Gráfico de Chicago in this great Printmaking Exhibition at the Museum of Latin America Art (MOLAA).
Big thanks to the curators: Gabriela Martínez, MOLAA Curator of Education and Rogelio Gutiérrez, Professor of Printmaking at Arizona State University - School of Art.
Gráfica América presents works by artists representing print shops, publishing houses, and artist collectives from throughout the United States, México, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The exhibition celebrates the collaborative spirit of printmaking through historical prints and publications as well as contemporary traditional and experimental works made in collective studios and workshops established by Latin American and Latinx printmakers.
Gráfica América, is organized by the Museum of Latin American Art and is curated by Gabriela Martínez, MOLAA Curator of Education and Rogelio Gutiérrez, Professor of Printmaking at Arizona State University - School of Art.
MOLAA gratefully acknowledges the following for their generous sponsorship of Grafíca América:
Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts
Arizona State University.
#printmaking #SOSNicaragua #MadresdeAbril #carlosbarberena #contemporaryprintmaking #grabado #institutograficodechicago #molaa
My linocut "Doña Chica" (Francisca Ramirez) is one of the pieces included in "Tierra Herida: Printmaking from the Americas" The exhibit was curated by Alec Dempster and runs through March 9, 2019 at the Walkers Point Center for the Arts 839 S 5th St. Milwaukee, WI 53204. USA.
Tierra Herida: Printmaking from the Americas is a panorama of contemporary printmaking in the Americas—46 artists from 20 countries explore the theme of mining from colonial times to the present, with the objective of making visible the problems of mining in the Americas, generating a debate that provokes consciences and actions.
"Doña Chica" (Francisca Ramirez) is a Nicaraguan farmer and Campesinos right activist and the head of the National Council for the Defense of the Land, Lake and Sovereignty. Since 2014 she has been leading protests against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal through Nicaragua and the expropriation Law 840, which gave to the Chinese company HKND the concession of the construction of the inter-oceanic canal and other infrastructure projects. Those constructions are putting on risk several indigenous communities and the expropriation of the land and displacement of hundreds of farmer families, also is putting in serious dangerous national parks and the lake Nicaragua.
In April 2018 Francisca Ramirez “Doña Chica” and other leaders of the Campesino movement joined the pacific public unrest protests against the totalitarian Ortega’s Government and called for a general strike. Since April 18ththe terrorist Ortega’s Government has been killed close to 500 students and civilians including more than 20 children, thousands of wounded, hundreds political prisoners and hundreds of forced disappearance. Doña Chica received death threats from paramilitaries, the police and the Nicaraguan army, for that reason she had to fled to Costa Rica where she is still working with leaders of the #sosnicaragua movement for the freedom of Nicaragua.
"The Prints of Carlos Barberena: A Peek of Clarity in the Darkness"
By Franky Piña / El Beisman
Carlos Barberena sticks the gouge in the matrix. He sculpts labyrinths, touches reliefs with his gaze. From the plowed surface a skeleton appears: two, three, four teeth. Five, six skulls. They are teeth, they are skulls and they are corn grains, but no, they’re not one or the other. Barberena carves, cuts and shreds more tiny gutters. On the surface of the linoleum sheet, a few maize leaves blossom, but it can’t be the millennial maize of Mesoamerica. That cob didn’t have the grains of death. Ceci n’est pas un maïs. Thus, it’s not a cob. It’s a linocut that shows the idea of death, but also of life. Beauty and horror co-existing. The communion of the necessary line and the precisely traced discourse. The kernels of ethics and aesthetics about to fall off this print on paper. The corncob’s trace that Barberena has printed features the Monsanto signature. The image is a source of questions: Isn’t that the transnational corporation, producing corn and other transgenic grains, that one that has bragged about creating as many grains as needed end hunger? To what extent has the Monsanto monopoly made farmworkers and agricultural business owners around the world dependent on them? To what extent are genetically modified grains contributing to the breakdown of the environment? To what extent does Monsanto have the disposition to bet exclusively on profits? And to what extent do we resist progress and modernization when standing against Monsanto? In ‘Untitled (Monsanto)’ 2010 Barberena offers no answers. As a printmaker, he creates and suggests allegories. He puts out ideas and commits to technique. Barberena is an old-school printmaker: he instigates, pricks the prevailing moral and cultivates doubt.
The graphic work of Carlos Barberena is an invitation to chat. His work takes us to an ancestral tradition, hence, he pushes us to start a dialogue with the works of different times. He also places the spectator in the present. And Standing before Barberena’s prints, a feeling of awe is inevitable, as well as the many questions that his works give way to. What is the function of art during dark times? Is an anti-establishment opus worth approaching? Can the artist be considered separately from his work? And what do Barberena’s prints reveal before this paradigm?
An artistic flow runs through Barberena’s veins, while indignation and longing spill. A whole pulsating system is captured in ink and reliefs on paper. Barberena: a young printmaker with the afflictions of an old man. The form in his prints is sublime. When drawing the curtain you can see many days of work with the chisel, the roulette and the etching press. Perhaps, he’s been tinkering relentlessly with the gouge in the matrix for a decade, but before that, he’d been playing with pen, paper and ink. Barberena has vigorously experimented with other mediums, but I believe it’s in printmaking where his voice has reached the highest note.
The substance in Barberena’s opus is essentially linked to his biography. The creator and his work are inseparable. Together, they are one in a specific moment in time; once the piece is finished, both go their separate ways. The printwill have to stand on its own and the artist will continue carving plates.
Carlos Barberena was born in Granada, a city located on the riverbank of Lake Nicaragua, in 1972. Back then, Somoza’s reign was dwindling: still reaping terror and sowing horrors at the foot of the volcano. Despite the violence in Sandino’s land, the lad grew in a bohemian atmosphere: his mother was an accomplished cross-stitcher, so much, that her finished pieces looked like paintings made of lace. His father played the guitar and used his pen to write combative union pamphlets. His great-great uncle Segundo De La Rocha was a renowned artist. Another relative Roger Pérez De La Rocha, was a militant in the avant-garde group Praxis and Carlos’ older siblings studied art. In that environment, it was a natural act for the little one to start drawing. When he turned ten, his mother came to terms with the fact that she would have another artist in the house and sent him to a popular cultural school, one of those that the Sandinista Revolution had fostered. During a drawing class, he was asked to draw a bottle. Upon finishing it, the teacher violently dismissed the child’s cubist creation and said: “You have no talent. I don’t know what you’re doing here.” Carlos left the school abruptly, not wanting to touch another pen in his life. Three years later, overnight, in one of those turns that the revolution brought, Carlos was uprooted from Granada and made Costa Rica his home.
Before becoming an artist, Barberena learned to observe; and despite the fact he had been torn from his school, friends and family, he learned how to deal with pain. In Costa Rica, he went back to the pen and the brushes; estrangement and melancholy started to spill over his art. The pieces were colorful back then, but he always left a hidden message amid the tones and the lines. On one hand, he was trying to push out the baggage he had been carrying for years, and on the other, he was anxious to rescue his indigenous roots with its lakes and volcanoes, and redeem the Nicaraguan immigrant that cut sugarcane and picked coffee beans in Costa Rica.
He recognizes himself as self-taught artist and wants to visually devour the world. He visits galleries and museums: he observes, admires and tries to discern the parts of what he sees. Before the easel, he starts transforming his paintings and moves away from the baroque. As a precocious painter, Barberena starts to sell his work and lives from it since he was 18. On a youthful whim perhaps, he signs a contract with a gallery and they buy everything he creates. Ten years of his life dedicated to cultivating the technique, reaping some financial freedom to undertake his most visceral projects. He reads Luis Ferrero, Jose Marti and César Vallejo. He comes to know the works of the masters: Pablo Picasso, Rufino Tamayo, Käthe Kollwitz and Oswaldo Guayasamín. He’s captivated by the latter’s art, philosophy and commitment. In body and work Barberena leans towards that road: to take sides with the voiceless. This is when Barberena’s palette starts dismissing the bright colors and earth tones begin to show up.
In 1993, Barberena returned to Granada. He lived and mounted exhibitions in both countries. For fifteen years he devoted himself to his art, and started exploring with different media. Central America was changing its political landscape; several revolutionary movements were coming to a close, but a cycle of violence was beginning. The world started to turn under the slogan of a new world order. And to capture, as an artist, all this new chaos, he resorted to the camera, the manipulation of color, the photo-transfer, sculpture, intervention, and even creating installations. While experimenting with new media, he approached the themes of immigration, dishonest politicians, the clergy’s abuse, the treatment of Abu-Ghraib and Guantanamo’s inmates, to name a few.
In this search to understand his times, Barberena created a significant body of work. Despite exhibiting in avant-garde galleries such as Praxis, in Managua, or in Costa Rica’s National Gallery, Barberena’s creative flame started to suffocate. No matter how much he created and innovated, his anti-establishment work would not have access to the galleries and museums he wanted to exhibit in. Just like the galleries in Central America, the type of work that sells in the art market continues to be ornamental, and sometimes functional.
What woke up Barberena from his lethargy was coming in contact with José Guadalupe Posada’s oeuvre. In 2007, he came to know the prints of the maestro during an exhibition in Mexico City. By then, he had been invited to participate in an artistic residence to specialize in etching, but the instructors had gone on strike. He did not work on etching, but lithography. The one-month residency was reduced to a week and a half. Wandering in Mexico City he stumbled upon Posada’s exhibition. ‘That was a blow’, he told me. ‘To see all his political and satirical work impacted me profoundly. I was overwhelmed by the need to work with that force, that dark humor that exists in his work.’ His perspective on printmaking expanded because ‘it is a more democratic art, more of ‘the people’ since you can print almost on any surface: notebooks, songbooks, match boxes...” Barberena had gained experience as a printmaker: in 2002, the German artist Wolfgang Hunecke had invited him to participate in an intaglio workshop with etching, aquatint, and drypoint at Casa de los Tres Mundos.
At the same time he discovers Posada’s work, he starts his move to the United States. In Chicago, he hangs up the brush and quits painting. He dives fully into printmaking. Planning to reinvent himself, Barberena revisits his previous work and, as a warm up on the linoleum block certain iconography that he had explored in painting reappears: the apple as an allegory of sexuality, feminine nudes, the umbrella, the moon, the Momotombo . . . from that retrospect, he decides to work in the series Years of Fear (2008-2009). It is born from an exhibit he had done in Nicaragua in 2000 and had wanted to take to war-torn places, but due to the great scale and lack of resources, it was not possible to make it happen. Years of Fear was an homage to war victims and its sequels. One decade later, he returned to the same concept, but now he poured it in linocuts and exhibited both in Managua and Chicago.
Upon observing the Years of Fear series, it’s impossible to avoid seeing the influence on Barberena of three masters: Guayasamín’s La edad de la ira (The Age of Anger); Käthe Kollwitz’, War (Krieg), and Los desastres de la guerra, de Francisco Goya. From the latter, we know he printed a series of 82 etchings registering a vision of Spain’s National Liberation War against Napoleon’s troops. Goya was 62 years old back then and deaf: in his very personal vision and with great mastery, he not only captures the devastation of war, but also the horror experienced by the victims and the heartlessness of the victimizer. The writer, pacifist and graphic artist Käthe Kollwitz, captures the dark side of humanity in her series Krieg (1923). The force of her drawings gave expression to the suffering of men and women that survived World War I. In The Age of Anger, Guayasamín painted a series of 150 notable works, executed between 1961 and 1990 and attempted to show the violence human beings are capable of inflicting on other human beings. Guayasamín painted, not without anger, faces, hands, crying women, mutilation. The faces and limbs scream of the pain, despair and uncertainty of those who barely survive at the bottom of the social scale.
Barberena’s prints try to capture the tragedy of the war in Nicaragua. He still lived through the last stage of Anastasio Somoza’s dictatorship at the end of the 70s. Despite being very young, he also lived through the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution and saw how the laurels of victory started wilting, until he had to leave Nicaragua. From Costa Rica, he observed and lived the refugee tragedy: ostracism, separation, racism, solitude, hunger and thirst for justice. Despite the exile, his source of ideas didn’t dry up. He continued believing in the philosophy of Augusto César Sandino: to be anti-imperialist, resist and become a free man. From that search of freedom, Barberena built his works.
Years of Fear is a series of expressionists recordings that display the ease of a budding printmaker that matures print by print and exposes an amalgam of raw emotions. Each of the 25 relief prints is a war testimony. Together, they are the reflection of many, concentrated on the prostrate gaze in front of the mirror. The drama of each piece is not less than that suffered in a war, any way. In the matrixes, Barberena’s gouge carves the hunger, agony, weeping, innocence, maternity, torture, migrants, the orphan girl, the political prisoner and the fatally wounded. His rough creases conceived reliefs that punch the print’s and the spectators’ faces. If reality is incapable of moving us, art should.
Of the 25 pieces that comprise Years of Fear, there is one that distresses me more than the others: ‘Anguish’. It’s the image of a woman traced with simple creases on the linoleum sheet. It seems as if she’s looking at us, but obviously not. Her gaze is fixed on something else: perhaps in the remote place where her partner, brother or daughter lies. It’s the face of despair and absence. What happened to that woman was not of her choosing. That woman lives purging the misfortune of being born without privilege. She’s brought her calloused hands to her face to silence the scream of consternation and loss. Despite her misfortune and misery, the woman remains firm. And although life is cut short or continues after the war, that woman continues to be a beacon of hope. This woman-mother, woman-sister, woman-friend is the archetype of liberty, kindness and the human condition. If we separate this print from the series of war pieces, this woman could well personify the face of any of the Plaza de Mayo grandmothers, or a Palestinian student, or an immigrant woman from Bangladesh or Saudi Arabia, an activist in Ferguson, Missouri or a mother from Ayotzinapa. Beyond his meticulous execution, ‘Anguish’ transcends time, crosses borders and rises above nationalism.
After Years of Fear, Barberena reinvented himself once again and started a dialogue with the classics. There is respect in the form and irreverence in the interpretation. He chose known works and made artistic interventions. You could call them homages, or even, anti-propaganda jams. I think this series displays at least two new features in Barberena’s work. One: it breaks the solemnity of his previous work. Now he resorts to satire, that which Posada impressed on him. He starts looking at the world with irony, humor, but always through the biting critique. Upon exhibiting Years of Fear in Chicago, in a way, Barberena brought to these streets the casualties of war, first as a result of U.S. support to Central American dictatorships; and afterwards, by the embargo and sponsoring of the counter-revolution. But Barberena was already creating from the bed of neo-liberalism, Milton Friedman’s chapel and his acolytes (the Chicago Boys). So Barberena, with his chisel and sarcasm, starts to capture the cultural contradictions and havoc of capitalism in his own silo. So, in a way, he starts incorporating into his work, his experience in Chicago. This series was titled Master Prints (2009-2014).
Two: he learned the impact of propaganda in art, while Barberena widening his studies on master printmakers, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). I assume he studied this artist of German Renaissance. Dürer was a modern artist; he surrounded himself by the intellectuals of his time, he knew how to take advantage of the printing press and used it as much to diffuse his work, as to spread the Christian doctrine with his religious images. He was one of the first to have a clear conscience on the artist’s role and free himself from the rules of his guild. That is why he snatched printmaking from the hands of artisans and elevated it to the heights of other arts. He was a pioneer in treating printmaking as a picture. He gave the same weight to shadows, volume, proportion and composition. He also became the predecessor of political propaganda when reproducing massively the image of Emperor Maximilian I. Dürer was interested in religion, but also in his social context. In the print ‘The Four Horsemen from the Apocalypse’ (1498), Dürer revealed people’s fear at the end of the century. People believed that the world would end in the year 1500 and the print captures the religious fear, the terror of a social crisis, as well as a critique to power.
Upon working on ‘The Four Horsemen from the Apocalypse’, Barberena asks: If Dürer was alive, how would he see the world? What could be construed as a joke or hoax, is not. Barberena’s apocalyptic vision is not a visual disorder. It’s not a bold idea without being realistic, it is. It’s a reflection of the world we live in, inundated by commercial propaganda. Everything is sponsored. Everything is privatized. Profit stands above the human condition. In the representation of ‘The Four Horsemen’, and following the order according to the Bible and Dürer’s print: the first represents the Conquistador (Mickey Mouse), the second The War (sponsored by British Petroleum), the third is Starvation (featuring McDonald’s and Monsanto’s logos on its chest), and the fourth is Death (with the symbol of radioactivity and the typical scythe). The pacifist and the losers of globalization appear under the hooves of the creator’s emissaries. And all this apocalypse is being broadcast live by an Archangel from the world of Fox News. The spectacle can’t be any less real. It’s dark; war aircraft cross the sky, the atomic bomb’s mushroom has swelled once more. If we read into the work’s symbolism, perhaps we could read — with little encouragement — the current condition of the world. Corporations are the sponsors of modern democracies; the world’s educational victory has fallen under the cultural homogenization brought by Mickey Mouse and show business; hyper-consumption has taken climate change to the edge of disaster; repression and intimidation have turned into the means to break those who resist the dominating cultural uniformity.
In the Master Prints series, Barberena has proven his expertise with the gouge and the etching press as a printmaker. Amid play and exercise, he’s turned around the function of propaganda. He doesn’t want the observer to buy a product, but to think and smile faced with our sad condition, and by provoking thought we can reach understanding. He knows the observer recognizes the allegories, and with the same persuasion used by propaganda the work will give way to questions. That is why his pieces have a didactic goal. These prints reflect the artist’s concerns, but he also shares them with the spectator and continues to believe that it is possible to create another world.
Today, living north of the Río Grande, Barberena has completed the panorama of the immigration phenomenon with more clarity. Although he had touched on this subject both in drawings and paintings, the print now has brought us nearer to the tragedy Central Americans face when crossing México. ‘Riding the Beast’ (2012) is a fable about the time that ‘modernity’ holds tight: a migrant, that could well symbolize the present, is riding on the beast. On his back, we see his travel companions represented as skeletons. Behind, is the unmovable past and also the famous golden arches of the hamburger. Those arches that represent, anywhere in the world, the alleged triumph of capitalism above any other ideology. The facetiousness of democracy, and liberty reduced to a couple of French fries. The triumph of imageology above the individual’s well-being. That prosperity that never came... Next to the migrant, death carrying an hourglass in its hands. It’s all a matter of time. The face is unchanging. What has he seen in the parcel or barrio left behind? What did he witness along the way? He can only see with eyes wide open. He looks ahead, towards the future, but the observer can’t see anything beyond the doubt and death’s allegory.
Not all is anger in Barberena. Not all is a critique. Everything is pulsing. It’s thought and poetry. In the linocut ‘Saint Pollero (Coyote)’ (2011), Carlos builds a quite emotional scene. Despite the solitude and the abandon that the immigrant falls into when crossing México and the border, s/he will always find a glimpse of faith in the other. In this case, a ‘coyote’ offering water helps the immigrant that has passed out in the middle of the desert. Perhaps it will be the last drink he takes, perhaps he will get up and continue on its way. The observer doesn’t know this. It’s not in the print. In the print we only see a compassionate gesture for the other, and that act may teach us more about love and justice than any ideology.
Barberena has been creating for almost 25 years. His work has reached a solid formality that speaks of dedication and persistence. He does not believe in muses, but in hard work every single day. He has a self-portrait from 2013, ‘McShitter’, which synthesizes his formal qualities. He creates, with creases of different size, a mosaic of patterns that represent the different textures seen in a bathroom. Each texture is unique and features the materials with as much fidelity a print can allow. The technique is not the most valuable thing in this piece, that is not exempt from the dart of self-critique. For many, it may be an exaggeration, but for me it’s a faithful picture of a contemporary human being. Carlos is sitting on a toilet holding a McBook on his knees. Is he working? Is he reading the news? Is he paying bills? Is he checking out a new printmaking technique on YouTube? Is he chatting on Facebook? It’s the face of someone connected to the global village, but disconnected with itself. In the self-portrait he seems focused on the outer world while he’s biting on a Big Mac with a super-sized drink, in case he chokes. The toilet apparently offers the comfort that an office lacks. In the privacy of his bathroom, the man finds himself, reaches freedom and gives way to his pleasures, his perversions. I believe this piece wouldn’t have the same impact if the model was someone different from the artist. Satire allows him to laugh about others, but first and foremost, to laugh about himself. Finally, beyond the humor, I think the creator is aware that he may also trip and fall into the trap that a salary brings: the comfort.
Carlos Barberena’s prints offer a peek of clarity, a pinch of awareness, and stimulate passion for the art of printmaking.
-Translated by Carolina A. Herrera
* Franky Piña. Writer and graphic designer. He has co-founded several past and present cultural and literary magazines in Chicago: Fe de erratas, zorros y erizos, Tropel and Contratiempo. He is the co-author of the book Rudy Lozano: His Life, His People (Workshop in Community Studies, 1991). Piña was also featured in Se habla español: Voces latinas en USA (Alfaguara, 2000) and Voces en el viento: Nuevas ficciones desde Chicago (Esperante, 1999). He functioned both as editor and publisher of Marcos Raya: Fetishizing the Imaginary (2004), The Art of Gabriel Villa(2007), René Arceo: Between the Instinctive and the Rational (2010), Alfonso Piloto Nieves Ruiz: Sculpture (El BéiSMan PrESs, 2014). Currently, he is the executive director of El BeiSMan and the Chair of the Encounter of Latinx Authors in Chicago.
Biennale Internationale d'Estampe Contemporaine de Trois Riviéres
I am very pleased to announce that I am among the 53 Printmakers selected to be part of the 11 Biennale internationale d'estampe contemporaine de Trois-Rivières, I'm so stoked and honored!
More info coming soon...