My Friend Wilay & Being An Artist

Maria Matienzo Puerto

Smiling Man. Photo by Paul Harris

I’ve always believed that being an artist is an attitude. It’s not enough to create a work that is sold or published; it’s not enough that in certain circles of power you’re seen as an artist; or that you see yourself as different, or that your friends tell you that you are, or that your believe yourself be.  More is needed.

You have to feel a sense of anguish when a certain amount of time passes without writing, without photographing, without painting – in short, without creating.  And even like this, if you didn’t fulfill the first conditions you would still lack much to classify yourself as an artist.

It seems a contradiction, but such is life.  And one never knows how to accommodate it without getting along well with it.  Perhaps what it demands is for us is to give up everything in exchange for nothing; to burn one’s ship and allow oneself to drift; to risk everything without knowing if it will be worth the while; not allowing oneself to rest, but instead struggling, struggling, struggling.

That’s why I don’t believe I’ll achieve it.  I always lack something, though I sense plenty of anguish.

To that can be added that “artistry” doesn’t translate into eating, neither here or anywhere else in the world.  But especially for those of us who are just beginning and are very old at thirty-something for some things, yet still very young for them to consider us for others.

I justify this diatribe on being or not being because my friend Wilay has returned to Havana.

My friend is a photographer, and although he was born in Pinar del Rio, he’s not dedicated himself to painting or photographing the landscapes of his province (as do many out there).  He reinterprets Cuban reality through his lens, though he is neither docile nor conforms himself to what he captures.  He experiments and returns us an image as seen from his dreadlocks, his black skin, his slanted eyes and his spirituality.

Despite having this arsenal on his side, my friend was absent for a while.  This made me think that perhaps there aren’t enough of these weapons when one lives off of favors or the charity of others; when one has a room in the back of a theater as their home; when they have to combine money, health and art; when one wants to be consistent with oneself in a society full of deceit.

I know that many people think photography lacks artistry in relation to other older expressions. However, I don’t believe that it’s possible to make a comparison.  Each one in their space can be valued in itself.

He returned (to my pleasure) after much time absent from the capital.  This is the only place where artists are able to oxygenate themselves and make themselves known, because in the provinces many communications and cultural institutions don’t function or simply don’t have enough reach.  I hope for Wilay that Havana will be his reaffirmation as a creator.

I hope, especially, that he doesn’t return tired of not being accepted only for the appearances that accompany him (his dreadlocks, his black skin, his slanted eyes), and that he continues forging ahead as someone —sure of himself— always finding what he seeks.

One thought on “My Friend Wilay & Being An Artist

  • Sometimes artistic creation needs to gestate. Just make sure it doesn’t “gestate” for too long, like that of the anti-hero protagonist in Hemingway’s short story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro!” Still, before loosening one’s creation, one must make sure it is a creation which is really worthy of seeing the light of day. If not, it should be aborted.

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