A Cuba Artist’s ‘Corporal Concepts’

Yusimi Rodriguez

Yoanny Aldaya

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 5 — There are two ways to read this interview with Cuban artist Yoanny Aldaya. The first: read the interview and then look at the photo gallery. The second: look at the photo gallery and then read the interview. We recommend the latter.

“Conceptos corporals” (Corporal Concepts) is the title of the second personal exhibition of the photographer Yoanny Aldaya. It took place this past December at the Gallery of Light and Crafts here in the capital.

While I was waiting for Yoanny in the gallery, I had time to look closely at the images that make up his exhibit (see photo gallery). Each one is more daring than the previous one. The bodies are all fragmented and these fragments are all we need to see. What is happening in each picture is evident, at first glance.

Then Yoanny came up to me and said with a sly smile: “There’s nothing there that you’re thinking.”

Yoanny Aldaya is a 27-year-old who graduated as a technician in maritime transportation, a career that never really interested him. He has no academic training as an artist, though in 2003 he took a three-month photography course, but it was just as a hobby.

Yoanny: When I saw the work of the young photographer Arien Shang, the winner of the Raul Corrales Scholarship two years ago, that’s when I became seriously interested in photography. I bought my first camera and started meeting people in the world of art. Since then, I’ve dedicated myself to photography.

Yoanny Aldaya at the opening of his show Corporal Concepts.

HT: Do you make your living from photography or do you have another job?

Yoanny: My parents help me. After taking one photography course, I took another one in rolling tobacco to make cigars, but I never worked in that. I also worked in a state-run guarapera (sugarcane juice stand) where I earned about a dollar a week.

Now, I belong to the Proyecto de Prado, which is only for promoting the work of artists. Although Prado Avenue is very centrally located and many tourists walk along there, we’re not allowed to sell our work there.

I have my photos in the galleries of friends, and when I’m able to sell one, I earn more than what a doctor makes in a month; though sometimes a month can go by and I don’t sell a single shot.

HT: What subjects do you want reflected in your photography?

Yoanny: I do a lot of social documentary photography, with political content, which depends on who’s looking at the picture. But that’s not my fundamental interest. I show what I see on the street, but always with an artistic concept that goes beyond criticism. For this I use both analog and digital photography.

HT: It’s rare for someone to use analog photography these days. I also understand that it’s expensive.

Yoanny: That’s true; the rolls of film are expensive and have almost disappeared. I do this kind of photography when I find someone to sell me rolls and when I have the money to buy them. It’s also hard to get analogue developing paper. So, what I do is take a picture with the film, scan the negative, and make a digital copy.

HT: What technology do you prefer?

Yoanny: Analog photography is more romantic, more classical, but I prefer to be able to see my work quickly.

Documentary photography by Yoanny Aldaya.

HT: How did the idea of ??“Corporal Concepts” emerge?

Yoanny: I started getting interested in taking photos of myself, though I must say that I’m not narcissistic.

I was on the beach with a girl and after we had sex there was nothing to say. We didn’t have anything in common. Then I started taking pictures of myself with her camera. It was very spontaneous. That’s how I came up with the three-pane work that appeared that year at the Erotic Art Salon and that was selected to be part of their exhibition.

I still didn’t know what I was getting into. A friend, Nicholas, saw those pictures and started telling me about semiotics and about Humberto Eco. I found it all very complicated, but then I read a book titled Los cuerpos reencontrados (Bodies Rediscovered), by an Italian philosopher named Eliseo Veron, I think. He was talking about the spiritual surface that one cannot see and goes inside material surfaces, either object-related or corporal. The body tells you how to proceed, according to its movements and volumes, and depending on the goal.

HT: Are you looking for that erotic effect on purpose?

Yoanny: Yes, I’m interested in erotic, sensual, sexual effects, and in morbidity.

HT: Does everyone who sees your work think that it’s about people having sex?

Yoanny: At first, yes, though later they begin to have doubts. They start to imagine that it could be about an arm or a leg.

HT: When I saw the pictures, I was amazed there weren’t objections at the gallery for showing them, because at first glance they’re a bit strong.

Yoanny: In the gallery they were already familiar with my documentary photography. When I presented this project, there were problems, but not because of the images themselves, but because there is a Cuban photographer who now lives in Miami. He was doing this same kind of work.

The curator defended my work saying that although the bases were the same, the works were completely different. Anyone can work with corporal concepts according to their own thoughts and purposes that they’ve outlined.

What I saw in the work of this other photographer was more informality in her approach, as well as blurring and motion. It was more abstract. The erotic effect was made by the use parts of the female body.

I look for penetration, so that the image doesn’t stand still, and so that there’s something born from the combination of different body parts according to what each viewer perceives. I don’t think these are aggressive images, though at the opening of the exhibit some people said it was pornographic. Many people might say it’s disgusting, but I say it’s only disgusting in their minds.

HT: Future projects?

Yoanny: I plan to continue with the manipulation of fragments of the body, but incorporating other elements. I want to do another series with the same concept.

HT: So are you giving up documentary photography?

Yoanny: Up until now I haven’t done that, and I don’t think I ever will. It’s the foundation of my manipulated photography, both the corporal concepts as well as other manipulations. It’s the key. What I see on the street is what leads me to manipulation.

HT: Why do you use white and black shots so much?

Yoanny: Because it doesn’t lie.

“Conceptos…” is the second solo exhibit by Yoanny Aldaya. The first, “Puntos de referencias” was held in 2008. He has participated in over twenty group exhibitions and won the Gran Premio de Fotografía (Palabra Nueva) of the Archbishop of Havana in 2005, and the first prize in the Sección del Color del Rom del Art Independent Festival II Edizione in 2010, among other accolades.

Click on the thumbnails below to view all the photos in this gallery. On your PC or laptop, you can use the directional arrows on the keyboard to move within the gallery. On cell phones use the keys on the screen.