«To make art, for me, is to organize my thoughts in an aesthetic way, to transmit ideas, to re-signify. It’s the perfect substitute for crime, because it allows me to aestheticize the transgression that is part of my very nature.» (Jhafis Quintero)
Revered delinquents and a fake priest
«En nombre del ladre, el tiro y el espíritu landro. Amen» – this pun on the actual wording «En nombre del padre, del hijo y del espíritu santo» is Jhafis Quintero’s own comment on his work «Domus Sanctorum» (Latin for «House of Holies») of 2017. In this piece, he gathers a small collection of plaster figures of the kind produced in Venezuelan favelas: Young murdered delinquents are sometimes posthumously beatified, and their statuettes are from then on worshipped as saints. They are offered liquor, tobacco, and marijuana as sacrifices to secure their grace for one’s own future raids.
«El santo del tren» of 2009 is another beautiful example of Quintero’s anticlerical and antiauthoritarian attitude: Jhafis created a smaller-than-life, whitewashed concrete statue of a young man and set it up next to the tracks of the train station in the Costa Rican capital San José. The artist then dressed up as a priest and, with an air of busy professionalism, boarded the trains to distribute handouts to the passengers. The leaflets carried a prayer and the vita Quintero had invented for the new young saint, who was soon to be recognized as such by the people—as visibly reflected by numerous devotional objects that were laid down at his statue. Later the local church forced the authorities to remove the «saint’s» sculpture from the public space…
Art growing from autobiography
Jhafis Quintero’s too great proximity to delinquency had garnered him ten years in prison in Costa Rica at a very young age. Needless to say, this phase shaped his life, and, in extension, his creative thinking and artistic actions. His youth spent behind bars ultimately brought forth not only works such as «Máximas de seguridad», a type of manual for survival in prison, or «In Dubia Tempore» (2004), a wonderful artist’s book filled with illustrations of instruments made of junk material for all kinds of purposes that only arise in prison and which in this book turn into an aesthetic apotheosis of cruelty.
His autobiography «La casa de los Geckos», published in 2017 by Letra Maya (Costa Rica), in which he processed his experiences a posteriori, is an extraordinary, highly rewarding read. Beyond mere autotherapy, this book is a small masterpiece written entirely in the style of «realismo magico», with the most incredible always turning out to actually be true.
Around 2010 Jhafis Quintero discovered video as an art form suitable for his purposes, and he started integrating it into his work. He has meanwhile produced a considerable number of short and concise video films. One of his latest and most impressive works showing his preoccupation with his own past is «I love myself, I don’t love myself.» («Me quiero No me quiero.») from 2017: https://vimeo.com/227369518
Love is still possible
In recent years, Quintero’s search for the (artistic) self shifted away from the past, away from issues of freedom and unfreedom and of time and its meaning, and he moved toward the present, toward the relationships that make up our human lives, and to the questions of who we are and where we stand in relation to our fellow human beings. Together with his artistic and life partner Johanna Barilier, Jhafis Quintero has created a whole series of video works and performances exploring these questions. Reduced to the essential, filmed with great precision, and characterized by bizarre aesthetics worthy of Federico Fellini or Ulrike Ottinger, the art duo created their «poemas», which «represent a kind of rebel answer contrasting with the social imposture that forces us to live a correct and hygienic couple life.» (JQ and JB). Dreamily sunny and serene, the two present themselves in their «conceptual jokes» (2022), which are witty and amusing little paraphrases on our lives: «Love is still possible»: https://vimeo.com/685335569