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Cuban Artist Lives in Crawlspace for Three-Week Exhibition

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Cuban Artist Lives in Crawlspace for Three-Week Exhibition

“My work is divided in two, the things I mention and the things I keep silent; this second part is the most important one.”

If those words from Alejandro Figuerdo Díaz-Perera ring true, the Cuban conceptual artist’s most recent exhibition was certainly a major breakthrough.

Díaz-Perera spent three weeks encased in a 2.5-foot-wide, 10-foot-long crawlspace behind a gallery wall at the Chicago Artists Coalition. The exhibition, titled In the Absence of a Body, was one of solitude and underlying tones of despair as Díaz-Perera bunkered himself in with nothing more than a mat, pillow, blanket, lamp and hammer (for breaking out in an emergency). He participated only in the essential actions of sleeping, eating and breathing, during which he was to be heard but not seen. His girlfriend, fellow artist Cara Megan Lewis, passed him food and water through a vent each day while relaying news updates from the outside world.

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The 23-year-old Díaz-Perera was born in Havana during times of severe poverty, famine and overpopulation. Absence has been a common theme for Díaz-Perera – not just in art, but in life. His father left Cuba during his childhood, and the young artist left his mother and homeland behind when he emigrated from Cuba to Chicago in 2014. The feeling of aloneness is one that Díaz-Perera, who is awaiting his green card and is set to become a naturalized U.S. citizen in July, conveys out of experience and raw emotion.

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The performance is also representative of the foggy relations between the U.S. and Cuba, now in a state of limbo after President Obama and Raul Castro jointly proclaimed open borders in December 2014. Since that promising announcement, practicality has set in and the situation has become more uncertain than ever before. Meanwhile, Cuban citizens are left in the dark. They are heard, but so faintly as if to be invisible.

Chicago Magazine likened Díaz-Perera’s self-exile to a quiet protest. Gallery director Teresa Silva said the artist called it “an action, not a performance.”

“He feels a little bit powerless, but also empowered,” Silva said. “There is celebration, but also frustration and hesitancy, as we don’t really know what the normalization of Cuba really means yet for the future.”

Díaz-Perera’s isolation is a reminder of the human face on the receiving end of any political conflict.

“Artists have a call to a purpose,” Lewis said. “How we respond to political situations matters. The artistic response has a ripple effect, but can it affect change?”

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