Ernesto Benítez (Biography)
Ciudad Habana, 1971
Lives and works in Havana, Cuba and Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
Ernesto Benitez, 1971, was born in the neighborhood of El Canal, a populous marginal city in the municipality of Cerro, in Havana City, Cuba. The town that hosted him during his childhood and adolescence is defined by the local authorities as a highly dangerous area, due to its proverbial violence and social deterioration. There, at the age of 12, he began his artistic studies at the Paulita Concepción Vocational Art School. This is the period of economic splendor of Cuba due to the subsidies received from the extinct Soviet Union, but Ernesto is constantly surrounded by all kinds of signs and vestiges of marginality, deterioration or moral and social decadence.
In 1986, at the age of 15, Ernesto Benitez took the entrance exams as an aspirant to the medium-high level in his career of Visual Arts and, being selected, he entered the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts, specializing in Printmaking. During his studies at the Academy he shares classes with members and founders of the Arte-Calle Group, and participates in the realization of some of the murals painted by the group in different places (Walls) of the Havana city during the next four years, among other activities.
In 1990 Ernesto graduated from San Alejandro Fine Art Academy and directly spent two years of mandatory military service in the army. From this dark period of his life, the artist does not usually make biographical references, but he assures that this experience marked a turning point in his life and work, whose discourse becomes, from now on, more political and confrontational.
In the middle of the “Special Period” he was caught by the so-called Los Balseros´ Crisis in 1994. By then, the artist was already living with his family in Jaimanitas, a modest seaside town in the coastal municipality of Playa, Havana. Jaimanitas, known as The Little Miami is, at that time, one of the usual points of illegal departure for many people trying to cross the Florida Straits to the United States of America. This allows Benítez to experience up close the multiple faces of the drama that the phenomenon of emigration constitutes for families. During this period Ernesto produced works such as “Ark of Life“, a sculptural installation made with the hull of a boat recovered from one of those painful shipwrecks that the artist would later adapt to the measurements of his own body in the shape of a coffin.
In 1995 he entered the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) in Havana. During his first year, Ernesto suffered anaphylactic shock that threatened his life and left a deep mark on him as an individual; something that, of course, had a direct impact on his work as an artist. This traumatic experience brought him very close to death, and the scars of that experience would form the basis of the subsequent turnaround that could be seen in his artistic practice – no longer detached from his vital praxis and his vocation for anthropological reflection-.
Since then, Ernesto Benitez’s artistic proposal explores different paths around human existence, constantly pointing out the traps of perception, the fragility of life, the “limit situations” and the latent presence of death. Ernesto Benítez exposes in his work the different cycles of his life experience as small periods of mutations (constant deaths and new births).
His passion for anthropology and philosophy leads him to scrutinize deeply the history of Western thought, with special emphasis on alchemical practices and processes, and, as if it were a study of comparative religions, he constantly contrasts in his works elements that he exhumes from the history of Western philosophy with references to Eastern practices and other non-western tendencies of thought
Ernesto almost comes from a lineage of jewelers.Several members of his family have practiced this profession for decades and the artist himself turned to it as a way of supporting himself during his university studies. The processes and knowledge acquired from this trade are reflected (evidently or in a veiled and symbolically interconnected way with alchemical presuppositions) in a good part of his work.
In 2009, it has been three years since Ernesto Benitez has gone from being an artist on the payroll of Galería Servando to being part of the list of artists officially represented by Galería La Casona, in Havana (one of the most prestigious contemporary art galleries on the Genesis Art Gallery circuit). His career is in full expansion when a series of concatenated events lead him to consider a turn in his personal path and a stop in the institutional-artistic.
A series of professional incidents in very delicate circumstances lead him to temporarily distance himself from the art institution and he considers a period of meditation and retreat Ernesto needs to reconsider some aspects of his life and rethink himself; so he decides to move away for a period and, while continuing to generate and produce art, in 2010 he settles in Spain.
The experiences of migration and insertion into the consumer society -coming the artist from a totalitarian regime- are reconfiguring his artistic poetics. For seven long years Ernesto Benítez was trained and worked as a specialist in Online Marketing and Comunication and this link with the digital environment also left notable traces in his artistic imprint. This link with the digital environment also left notable traces in his artistic imprint.
Over the next seven years (2011-2018) Ernesto works on new series and numerous projects of sculptural-installation works that explore individual, social and cultural cleavages in the contemporary world. These projects, done in a diverse range of techniques, incorporate photography, objects, new media (net-art), video and clandestine interventions, are grouped under the general title of 7 days of silence. With these precedents and the accumulated experience, in 2019 Ernesto resumes his work publicly and does so by presenting the personal exhibition Ab æternō (Open Studio), during the 13th Havana Biennial.