The Essence of the Object: An Artist’s Fascination and Metaphor

Naty Gabriela González

Present day slaves.  Photo: Yomer Fidel Montejo Harrys
Present day slaves.  Photo: Yomer Fidel Montejo Harrys

HAVANA TIMES — Yomer Fidel Montejo Harrys was born in Camagüey in 1983. Coming face-to-face with this 31-year-old artist, we find ourselves with a young man with a watchful eye and a friendly smile. An artist who has travelled along a long road of search, discovery and exploration which goes far beyond the naivety that we had discerned at a first glance.

Yomer grew up in his hometown, coming from a modest family, whose parents had no relationship with the arts in any way. However, he always had a sensitivity to the fine arts, he drew and sketched since he was a little boy until he moved to Havana when he was a teenager and enrolled in Havana’s Pablo de la Torriente Brau School, where he studied Civil Construction and Crafts for four years, graduating as an artisan in 2000, looking to pursue the arts, although he felt that the crafts weren’t exactly the means for him to express himself.

We find ourselves with a young man who worries about the same things any other man his age would, he doesn’t have any children and he lives in Havana alone, far away from his family who still live in Camagüey. He feels that art gives him the opportunity to meet lots of people and to interact with other art forms, which he hasn’t yet fully explored such as literature, and film, which he is particularly drawn to and sensitive towards. He has written a few poems, but doesn’t dare to publish them. He is an artist who searches for expression in many different forms; however, photography has proved to satisfy his artistic needs and more recently, the visual arts in general.

Then X-rays came into his life

Four years after having finished school, he did his two years of obligatory military service, which put a pause in his artistic career. However, when he left the military, he enrolled on a medical imaging course and worked as an X-ray technician for two years. It never crossed his mind that the radiographic image would lead him on the path to finding himself and his art.

His photographic references were almost zero, except for the classics within the field that he had studied at school.

Por Yomer Fidel Montejo Harrys
Photo: Yomer Fidel Montejo Harrys

It was then that he decided to learn the process of art history by himself and he studied different magazines and art history books in order to have a wide range of references and to see different aesthetics of the art form, which he would then go on to develop further.

Whilst studying the plaques and the infinity of contrasts that a disease could show on an X-ray, he became more and more interested and fascinated by the images that he saw; this was the first step in then going on to create an artistic and conceptual dialogue. He realized that the still image could speak, narrate, hide thousands of encrypted stories waiting to be discovered and so he decided to do a still life photography course in 2007. Here, he met many young people linked to the world of visual arts, sharing their concerns, searches, ways of making and self-expression.

It was also here that he discovered the X-ray is another way to manipulate an image and he began to experiment, x-raying dissimilar objects, discovering that the solarization and degree of contrast which an X-ray gave him could be on par with a high contrast photograph and in a medium which he had never explored before.

This is when he began to exhibit his works at the Digital Art Venue organized by the Pablo Torriente Brau center, where he received Honorable Mentions during the course of this event from 2008-2014.

In 2008, he presented a lightbox with two X-rayed skulls kissing at the Erotic Art event in East Havana. According to the artist, his preference for skeletons and skulls has nothing to do with death nor any other leitmotif that you could dream up, it was just part of his job as an X-ray technician who, by looking at photographed bones on a plaque, discovered the interior of a human being expressed in his skeleton as a spiritual metaphor or as an exploration of the non-tangible, be that bodies or objects.

The curtain opens.  Photo: Yomer Fidel Montejo Harrys
The curtain opens. Photo: Yomer Fidel Montejo Harrys

In 2009, Yomer exhibited 2 plaques at the “La llave del cerro” [Key to the Hill] Biennial organized by the Teodoro Ramos Gallery and won 3rd prize. He continued to experiment with radiological photography using other mediums. That same year, he participated in a group exhibition curated by the artist and specialist, Frencis, in his gallery in East Havana, where he presented five works on photographic paper using the same technique. This exhibition gave him the opportunity to meet other artists from his generation such as Rodney Batista who, in spite of working with other forms and using different techniques, found similarities in their way of self-expression. These young artists were brought together by Frencis later in the year to carry out another very similiar project at the capital’s Luz y Oficios Gallery, which was well-received by critics and the general public.

In 2010, he attended another still-life photography course at the UNEAC (Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba), taught by the photographer Alberto Arcos. This course provided Yomer with a deeper insight into the world of photography and gave him a greater understanding and knowledge of trends, styles, concepts which he hadn’t really gone into detail about before. This same year, he organized and put on his first personal exhibition, which received great critical acclaim from the public and critics.

Halfway through 2013, he began to actively experiment with other mediums still using the same technique as he feels this technique provides him with an infinity of possibilities using other mediums and to produce a vast collection of work, giving him the opportunity to reinvent himself in his art.

For such a young artist, he has already received numerous Honorable Mentions at national events and has taken part in group and personal exhibitions, which have allowed him to commercialize his work and to actually live off of what he does and loves.

At the 2015 Havana Biennial

Yomer will be presenting his work now at the 12th edition of Havana Biennial 2015 [1] which will kick off on the 22nd May and can be visited until the 22nd June. His work will form part of a group exhibition curated by specialists Krisley Pérez and Alain Cabrera, where the central theme surrounds objects and experimentation within the visual arts. He will exhibit four works which have been rescued from what he produced between 2008 and 2012, which deal with objects and the worthiness of art in museums. He also tries to break away from the two-dimensional aspect of the medium he always used to work with, this time presenting his work in lightboxes, so as to give a third-dimension to his art whilst still using the X-ray technique.

We can safely say that we find ourselves in front of an artist whose fascination for the image led him and drives him to discover the origin of things and to recreate a metaphor between the eschatological which appears to be just a simple X-ray but then to reinvent it as a work of art.

[1] The Havana Biennial is an event which is held in the capital every two years. It brings together visual artists from all over Cuba and the world, where numerous exhibitions, interventions, performances and cultural activities related to visual arts take place.