INTRODUCTION

lynette m.f. bosch, ph.d.

SUNY Distinguished Professor, SUNY Geneseo

Audio: La Bella Cubana performed by Paquito D'Rivera (v1)

Communication. Contagion. Confinement. Covid Lockdown. An event that will mark the year 2020 for those who sheltered in place during the outbreak of Covid-19, the name for the Coronavirus that ravaged the world since November 2019. For multi-media artist Geandy Pavón, and for Imara López-Boada, his partner in life and in the production of the series of photographs featured in this exhibition, lockdown happened in Buffalo, New York, turning a visit into a quarantine. Home to Pavón was northern New Jersey, across the Hudson from Manhattan. These being the two areas of the U.S. to be worst hit first by Covid, Pavón decided to remain in Buffalo. As the lockdown unfolded, Pavón’s parents came down with Covid, and recovered, as did many of his friends and acquaintances. During the lockdown, he could only follow their progress long-distance. 

Pavón remained in Buffalo for forty days and nights. He had with him, a camera with a 50mm lens. The camera would become the primary medium of expression for Pavón’s emotional, intellectual and artistic responses to the lockdown. Later, videos were made to supplement the photographs that were the focus of his effort and the centerpiece of this exhibition. The photographs created during the lockdown are a signature series for Pavón, in which he and López enact: moments of pure fantasy, adjusted reality, dream sequences, reinterpreted works of art; religious themes, figures from Classical mythology, and the record of the unfolding history of the quickly changing time of Covid. Pavón presented the series he configured in social media, entitled “Quarantine: 40 Days and 40 Night”. [1] The series drew critical attention and was reviewed online by: Edgar Ariel for “Rialta”; by “ddc”: and was featured in Radio Television Martí. [2]  

The Art Museum of the Americas presents the next stage of Pavón and López’s meditation on lockdown, in “40 Plus In Buffalo: Geandy Pavón’s Photographs Of The Covid Lockdown,” which incorporates photographs, following those presented in “Quarantine: 40 Days and 40 Nights.” “40 Plus” extends the time of lockdown into events that followed the end of the American quarantine. The AMA’s online exhibition includes a video by Pavón, in which he discusses the series, along with accompanying videos related to the “Quarantine” series. Chronicled as an artistic representation of unfolding moments of historical significance, the addition to “40 Plus” extends to include references to the demonstrations that coincided with the end of lockdown and the hope that the aftermath of the ongoing Covid epidemic will be a time of global renewal. These additions extend the meaning and significance of “Quarantine” beyond the first phase of the lockdown and create a space for future additions and transformations of Pavón’s initial creative recording of his emotional, intellectual, artistic, philosophical and historical awareness during the first lockdown, as Covid enveloped the world.

Confinement and exile from daily life are familiar experiences and are recurring thematic topoi in Pavón’s artistic trajectory. Pavón and López are Cuban-Americans, who left Cuba for a life free of the restrictive governmental oversight and political repercussions for dissent they experienced in Cuba. [3] Pavón arrived in the United States in, 1996, after Amnesty International, arranged for the release of his father from a Cuban prison. He was already an established artist in Cuba, part of a dissident group – “La Campana” – and his early work was marked by his early life experiences before and after exile. Politics, irony, satire and humor are recurring themes in Pavón’s work, along with a contextual and conceptual exploration of the history of art. In his pursuit of his artistic vision, Pavón is especially focused on Northern and Southern Baroque Art, with its explorations of literature, religion and Classical mythology, although all artistic movements interest him. Pavón’s affinity for the art of the Baroque, creates a working space for him, where he, as did Baroque artists, mythologizes his perceptions of his social environment and draws upon combined worlds of poetry, art, literature and spiritual history. From these eclectic recombinations, Pavón generates his quixotic and thought-provoking images, rendered in paint, photography or video. 

Imara López-Boada was born in El Vedado, Havana, Cuba. Her artistic education was in Music, Dance and Theater. One of her grandfathers, was a violinist with and founding member of the Orquesta Sinfonía Nacional, in Cuba. Her mother was also a violinist for the Teatro García Lorca.  Her sister, Lázara Martínez, also a violinist, played for the Camerata Romeu. López grew up in the milieu of Teatro García Lorca, observing and participating in its productions. In 2001, López left Cuba for the Dominican Republic and, in 2006, taking advantage of “Wet Foot/Dry Foot,” she arrived in Puerto Rico, after two failed attempts to reach the island. From Puerto Rico, she made her way to Miami, to New York City and Buffalo. Her participation in “Quarantine” was essential for the development of costumes, settings, action, themes and staging of ideas reflective of the central concepts of the series. Her attention to production details, based on her knowledge of Theatrical staging, was invaluable, as was her aesthetic configuration of dramatic moments. Thus, her participation was crucial for the thematic translation of the imagery found in the series. As was Pavón, she was both participant, producer, authorial presence and enactor of the varied and complex subjects featured in the photographs and videos that comprise “Quarantine” and “40 Plus.”

Locked in, with only the most essential businesses open, Pavón improvised his photographic equipment and materials with what could be purchased and what was at hand. The series that Pavón so successfully configured was put together on a shoestring budget and ready-made, assembled equipment, such as: a radio transmitter with flash, cardboard tubes to direct light in the form of spotlights and home-made light boxes for special effects. All was held together by tape and wire. The finished impact of the images captured by Pavón’s camera are visually stunning, original, gripping, personal yet removed from reality by the surrealistic lighting and color effects of the presented subjects.

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Pavón’s motivation was succinctly expressed by his artist’s statement concerning the pandemic as the catalyst for the series - “The only possible revenge against the pandemic is in the hands of science, in the form of a vaccine, and in art, in the form of catharsis. The need from which I started this series is common to every artist, that vital impulse that leads us to further complicate reality, because art does not explain, but rather complicates reality even more. Making art in seclusion is a challenge: on the one hand you have all the time to perfect an idea, and on the other hand all the material limitations to execute it.” “Quarantine: 40 Days and 40 Nights” and “40 Plus” are the result of Pavón’s desire to make new realities that comment and expand the world in which he finds himself and the circumstances that led to Covid lockdown. It is his way of communicating during his confinement and his record of what he thought about while he avoided the contamination of Covid 19. In creating art during times of plague, Pavón joined a long history of art and cultural change that date from the earliest establishment of towns and cities. 

Plague and pandemics have been with us since the Neolithic stage, when plagues wiped out entire villages in Prehistoric China, c. 3,000 B.C. at Hamin Mangha, where the dead of all ages were buried in a group grave, inside a house that was burned to prevent further contamination. In 430 B.C., Athens and Sparta were decimated by a plague that may have killed as many as 100,000 people and lasted for five years. Rome was attacked by plague, in 165-180, when the soldiers returning from a Roman victory against Parthia brought what is now labelled “The Antonine Plague.” The Plague of Cyprian afflicted North Africa, in 250-271, and St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, thought it meant that the world was coming to an end. But the world continued. The world also recovered from the Plague of Justinian, 541-542, which ravaged the Byzantine Empire led by the Greek Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora and then extended into Europe. Estimates place the dead as high as having been 10% of the global population at the time because The Plague of Justinian was a global plague, as is Covid. It was 250 years before the Plague of Justinian disappeared and the world recovered. But, plague returned to the world, in 1346, as The Black Death, identified now as having been caused by the bacterium, Yersinia Pestis. A salmonella plague afflicted Mexico and Central America from 1545-1548 and enteric fever continues to be a health threat today. In the Americas, the Sixteenth Century was the plague century, as Europeans brought diseases for which the populations of the Americas lacked natural immunity. The impact of these plagues were devastating and estimates suggest that as much as 90% of the Western Hemisphere’s population died. Conquest followed plague, as the destroyed populations were unable to resist the advance of the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English invaders. Thus did plague impact the history of the Americas North, Central and Southern.

From 1665 to 1666, London suffered from the Great Plague, which was the last outbreak of “The Black Death” that emerged in 1346. 1666 was a tragic year for London as 15% of its population died from the plague and The Great Fire destroyed large sections of the city. The Eighteenth Century was marked by plagues: The Plague of Marseille, The Russian Plague, and The Philadelphia Plague. The Nineteenth Century brought The Flu Pandemic, of 1889-1890.  A second Flu Pandemic spread globally, in 1918-1920, under the name of “The Spanish Flu,” even as World War I presented its roster of death. Throughout the early part of the Twentieth Century, Polio ravaged the world, until Jonas Salk, in 1954, developed the vaccine that ended Polio. 

More recently, the Asian Flu, of 1957-58, caused the loss of about a million lives. In 1981, AIDS became the next pandemic and it continues, having claimed approximately 35 million lives, despite medical advances that have ameliorated its initial impact. H1N1, killed between 150,000-550,000 people worldwide between 2009 and 2010 before it was contained. Ebola emerged, in 2014-2016, as the next plague and it continues sporadically to emerge in various hot spots. The Zika virus, which began to circulate out of South America and Central America continues. And now we have Covid 19 to add to the history of plague that is as old as the history of humanity’s earliest mass settlements in villages and towns. 

Plague is part of human history. Its emergence and impact have been recorded in art, literature and poetry, perhaps most notably in Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron or The Human Comedy, written, between 1346 to 1353, after the emergence of The Black Plague. In the Decameron, Boccaccio recounted the stories told by a group of plague exiles, who were in Medieval Lockdown in a secluded villa outside of Florence. Those on lockdown told stories, ranging from the erotic to the tragic, with wit, irony, satire and from a historical, spiritual, mythological and artistic perspective – all told to while away the time until they could emerge in a world changed by the plague they had secluded themselves to escape. 

Geandy Pavón and Imara López-Boada’s “Quarantine: 40 Days and 40 Nights” now “40 Plus” are a modern “Decameron,” presented as a contemporarily modern and yet traditional response to our collective history of plague. To such circumstances, humanity has always responded with a combination of despair, progress in medical science, hope and transformation - all recorded in the language of art for generations to come. Those among us, who will survive Covid, can draw from this history the knowledge that the tragedy of plague will be overcome by our determination to survive and thrive in its aftermath, so that the memory of those who died can live preserved in the immortality that is the outcome of art. In a very specific way, Pavón’s “Quarantine” and “40 Plus” are In Memoriam for those who will succumb to Covid 19. For those, who will survive, Pavón’s photographs record that there will be continuity in our current time of change.

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[1] Among the social media posts were: Facebook; http://quarantine40daysandnights.com/about
[2] Rialta Magazine; Diario de Cuba; Martí News
[3] Lynette M.F. Bosch, Cuban-American Art In Miami: Exile, Identity and the Neo-Baroque, Lund Humphries Press, 2004. Pavón graduated from the National School of Fine Arts (ENA), in Havana, after studying at the School of Fine Arts El Cucalambé, Las Tunas. Since 1996, Pavón has lived and worked in or near New York City. He has exhibited at the Harlem Studio Museum, the X Files Biennale, the Centro Cultural Cubano, New York City and El Museo del Barrio.