Elio Rodriguez

Elio Rodriguez

Independent Scholar


Afro-Latin American Research Institute Fellow and Cohen Fellow, Hutchins Center

All my work in a general sense deals with the question of identity, understood as the system of judgments about a person, culture or phenomenon. This question is generally treated from the prism of Caribbean popular culture, using the humor and elements of this culture, and such cliches formed about the culture, that when it comes from them, it builds images that simultaneously incarnate that reality, and question it.

The ambivalence of genres is also a topic that is near to me, a game of illusions with the spectator, the doubt in the identity of a concept or an image, the phenomena that pretend to be one thing, but that are really something else or both at the same time.

Although my work has a conceptual root, where the idea conditions formal elements; the sensory sense, the sensations that emanate from the forms of my work are fundamental to them. In my artwork I am used to working with different media depending on how interested I am: painting, installations, sculptures, prints, ceramics; this, however, has been associated generally with the soft sculpture (sewn and stuffed fabrics), a technique that brings me closer to the craftwork of the popular cultures of the Caribbean, incorporating real chosen objects.”

Project Description

Corridas y Venidas

My goal is to continue to explore the complex relationships between being Cuban, being black and, as both Cuban and a person of African descent, member of wider diasporic communities that cannot be contained by the traditional geographic boundaries of the nation state. How do these identities and labels evolve in  place(s) of residence that do not easily coexist with or sustain them?

Identity, I mean the forces and influences that shape our understandings of identity, is central to all my work. I understand identity as experiences that are anchored in judgments, prejudicial notions, ideas and preconceptions that conform visions about a person and about groups--from racial groups to national communities. These judgments, which circulate in our families, our social networks, in social spaces of various kinds, and indeed transnationally, are never stable, but many of them have endurance and permanence beyond borders and across time. Racial prejudice--all that is associated with race and particularly with being "black"--is a good example of this, of how certain judgments shape people and who they are, regardless of place of residence.

Taking these topics into account, I wonder: does "blackness" need to be black? Can we conceive of "blackness" as an achievement--that is, as something that ceases to be "black"? How much mixture of influences or "identities" is needed for a black artist to cease to be perceived as just black? This project is built on a on ongoing effort on which I have been working for several years. Titled "Corridas y Venidas" (www.machoenterprise.com), it plays with language (as "corridas" is the term used to describe bull fighting in Spain, but it also has sexual connotations) and with disparate visual influences to build images in which people of African descent do not easily fit, at least according to stereotypical visual codes.

Spring 2015: Cohen and Afro-Latin American Research Institute Fellow


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