By Darys J. Vázquez Aguiar
Ernesto Benítez is focused on a constant and deliberate quest to understand the human condition through his art. His main obsession has become a serious ontological exploration, of the mind and the body. Thus, in his most recent project, One and a Thousand Eyes, Benítez seeks to decipher existential and cosmological secrets through an interior monologue. The daily exercise of self-reflection transforms the artist into a monk of his own practice, and his creative method into a ritual.
Although he is a former member of the Arte Calle group, a significant social-artistic project in Cuba during the 1980s, Benítez really belongs to the group of artists of the mid-1990s, the period when he studied at the Instituto Superior de Arte. Ever since then, he has been interested in proposing, through art, an approach to, and moreover, an interpretation of problems in the field of anthropology. Heraclitus´ old dictum “know thyself” summarizes his philosophical thought. It follows that man is the fundamental center and nucleus to reach God, or, even better, that he is himself God. This is not a God inscribed to any specific religion, such as Christianity or Buddhism, but is a more mystical entity that inhabits our bodily mass and feels fear and doubt.
Without betraying his alchemist ingenuity, Benítez creates a series of eight pieces using ashes, acrylic, and vegetable coals. The photographic resource, inserted here for the first time, displaces the use of silhouettes in favor of a representation of their faces. The I manifest unveils a protagonist role in self-knowledge. The eyes -one part of that whole- occupy an essential point in this series. They contain the largest poetics: more than interpreters of light´s electromagnetic vibrations, they are the first door to knowledge. But for Benítez, vision can also be an obstacle that distracts us and prevents us from reaching the essence of things. He seems to be saying that intuition is more abundant in the realm of the blind. This is why a blindfold on a watchman´s eyes is no more cause for alarm than telepathic communication between two individuals, or the fact that a drug provokes hallucinogenic visions akin to those of ancient shamans. I leave this issue open for debate, since it seems that shamanistic cures are not far removed from psychoanalysis; both practices produce therapeutic effects that liberate consciousness and can bring about a physiological cure. It appears that the triumph of science is not yet absolute.
The artist also emphasizes the mystical charge of the eyes. In popular mythologies, the evil eye is a very old superstition. Of all the body´s organs, the eyes possess the greatest powers of seduction, perhaps harkening back to the practices of witchcraft, which used vision to cause illnesses, irreparable catastrophes, and even death.
But the eye is not the only symbolic form used by Benítez. The knife, the rope, and the sickle are other figures that establish the metaphor of destruction or death. I prefer to understand these forms as synthetic expressions intended to mobilize the concepts of truth, morality, and ethics, the classical pillars on which society rests, although this is less obvious and far removed from conventional interpretations.
Time and time again, Benítez plays with the borders between scientific anthropology, theology, and philosophy. The logic of disconnection seems to guide us in his drawings. We need to find a magical thread to direct us out of the labyrinth, since, as I have said before, opening our eyes is not enough.
Published in ArtNexus Magazine, Bogotá/Miami, USA. Edition No. 57, Volume 3, Year 2005, Pp 132
Published in ArtNexus.com