Latinamerican Art

Applied Thinking: The Capote Brothers

Iván Capote (born 1973 in Pinar del Río, Cuba, lives and works in Havana, Cuba) + Yoan Capote (born 1977 in Pinar del Río, Cuba, lives and works in Havana, Cuba)

I admit I have never managed well to keep the Capote brothers Iván and Yoan apart, even though they are not identical twins, but rather two different characters and artists, each with a meanwhile substantial oeuvre of his own. Nevertheless, I am doomed to failure in trying to do them justice individually here, so I hope that they will forgive me for taking the liberty of dealing with them jointly.

When I first met the two Capotes—they do appear together quite frequently, both in personal and in artistic contexts – some twenty years ago in Havana, I noticed how «down to earth» they are. They run smoothly. They rest in themselves; they seem completely equanimous as if nothing and nobody could ever upset them. But beware, do not be fooled by their placid exterior! Reserved and without the slightest inclination to hysteria, they are quiet and extremely attentive observers of their surrounding who miss absolutely nothing. They are aware of their quality; they need no showiness. Their elegant sharp-mindedness, their perceptive way of thinking, their wit and mischievous humor flash up only gradually upon closer acquaintance.

Iván Capote, Dislexia, 2003, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 140 x 3,5 cm, Courtesy: Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich

Cuban roots, international success

Cuba with its history and culture, the country’s idiosyncrasies, and, of course, the «lived surrealism» that matured over decades with all its grotesque and paradox implications as can evolve only in a tropical military regime, all this forms the creative stock of their art. On the one hand, the Capote brothers are deeply rooted in their Cuban ground—inconceivable for their art to thrive elsewhere. On the other hand, they succeeded very early in their careers in the beginning of this millennium in leaving their national and regional borders far behind them and in creating works of general and universal significance that are understood everywhere. This is not least due to their pronounced existentialism and their profound interest in the human condition, which forms the basis and starting point of their art.

Style contra censorship

The Capote brothers see art as a form of communication, both in an ideal sense and in the potential for failure. One of their most important stylistic devices is visual poetry (poesia visual). The constitution, the aesthetics, and the meaning of words themselves, as well as their possible subtleties, play a basic role in the artists’ works. Their «playful conceptualism» (conceptualismo ludico) makes profuse use of metaphors, which not least helps them to regularly checkmate the state’s ubiquitous censorship. Their artworks brim with complex, overlapping levels of meaning and symbolical as well as concrete allusions that are only entirely accessible to those who are able to decipher the full background. At the same time, the Capotes’ artworks always provide sufficient clarity for non-initiated viewers to find full satisfaction, too, and to comprehend the works’ central message. 

Yoan Capote, Voluntad de poder, 2006, bronze, 280 x 165 x 65 cm, Courtesy: Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zürich

In their seemingly carefree and easy manner, the Capotes process the varied illustrative material that their grotesque everyday life in Cuba abundantly and routinely deals out to them. In doing so, they artistically reflect on the conditions of all our lives. With witty humor and tongue-in-cheek, they present us with their insights, supplying us with a steady stream of perpetual mental exercises.


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