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Courtesy Walker Art Center
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Title
Obras Escogidas (Selected Works)
Artist
Kcho (Alexis Leyva Machado)
Date
1994
Dimensions
installed 51 × 100 × 37.25 inches
Materials
books, metal frame, wood table, newspaper, twine
Location
Not on view

Object Details

Type
Sculpture
Accession Number
1996.134.1-.2
Inscriptions
in ink BL stern of the boat “Kcho 94”
Physical Description
a boat constructed of a metal armature and composed of Cuban text books; boat rests on a wood table
Printer
N.A.
Credit Line
Clinton and Della Walker Acquisition Fund, 1996

object label Kcho (Alexis Leyva Machado), Obras Escogidas (Selected Works) (1994) Walker Art Center, 1998

“A boat is an ancient human invention. I don’t think there is another mode of human transport that says more about people.”–Kcho, 1995

In his work, Kcho often references the contour of the boat as metaphor for the physical and diplomatic isolation of his native Cuba. Though the boat has multiple possibilities of direction, destination, and time, the materials that make up this “floating object” speak equally to its many impossibilities.

Kcho’s boats often give the illusion of floating or functioning, but they cannot. This is not a failure of physical transportation, but underscores the aspect of art most important to the artist: its function as pure illusion. Constructed from textbooks the artist used as a student, Obras Escogidas tries to make visible Cuba’s hidden social structure, suggesting the complexity of the nation’s ideas in formation.

Label text for Kcho (Alexis Leyva Machado), Obras Escogidas (Selected Works) (1994), from the exhibition Selections from the Permanent Collection, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, December 8, 1996 to April 4, 1999.

Copyright 1998 Walker Art Center

online content Metaphor: Universal Boat Walker Art Center, 2003

In his work, Kcho often uses the contour of the boat as a metaphor for the physical and diplomatic isolation of his native Cuba. Like Cuba, a boat can be considered an island. Though the boat has multiple possibilities of direction, destination, and time, the books that make up Obras Escogidas speak equally to its many impossibilities. It is literally a boat that cannot float.

Since ancient times and in many cultures, the boat has served as an artistic and literary metaphor for real and spiritual journeys.

Placed in the tomb of a deceased noble or government official, this object faithfully represents the vessels used in daily life for fishing and for transportation on the Nile. A model boat enabled the deceased to make a pilgrimage by magical proxy to the city of Abydos, the cult center of the god Osiris.

Cultures around the world and throughout history have used boats as a means of migrating across water. The shape and function of boats is universal and cuts across cultural and geographic boundaries. Moroccans use a type of vessel they call pateras to cross the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain. When Kcho mounted a work in Madrid, Spain, many mistook him for Moroccan because the shape of the boats in his work resembled the pateras. In Korea, he exhibited a work called Para Olvidar (To Forget), a Korean ship made with Korean materials. “If you look at it and don’t read the name of the artist,” the artist explains, “you may think it was made by anyone, even someone from Korea … .”

Metaphor: Universal Boat, from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.

Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center

online content Identity: Immigration Walker Art Center, 2003

In 1998, more than 15,000 Cubans immigrated to the United States. Kcho, however, has not emigrated from Cuba.

Kcho’s first solo exhibition in 1996 at a gallery in New York was picketed by angry Cuban exiles. They claimed that support in the form of an art exhibition for anyone who chooses to remain in Cuba directly supports Fidel Castro’s regime. In the early 1990s Cuban officials allowed the artist to travel abroad to show his work, leading to the assumption that he is a “Castro-approved artist.” In 1997, however, the United States denied Kcho an entry visa, making it impossible for him to create a wall drawing that was to be part of an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The rejection notice from the State Department took the place of the drawing in the show.

“Cuba is not Fidel lying on the Caribbean,” Kcho says. “Cuba is something made by nature, and I am happy to have been born in Cuba. I love Cuba. It is my birthplace. For me, denying that is like rejecting your own mother. This is something that the land does not forgive. It is absurd to deny the land, especially when Cuba is so beautiful.”

http://www.immigrationforum.org

Identity: Immigration, from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.

Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center

online content Place: Cuba Walker Art Center, 2003

Cuba is an island where borders are as geographic as they are political. To leave the country of Cuba requires that one cross from land to sea.

According to Kcho, everyone who lives on an island shares a migratory mentality. “To have a liquid medium as a limit always makes you think differently. Cuba is not always going to be socialist or communist. The only thing that is permanent is that Cuba is always going to be an island, and always the ocean will be the limit.”

While many may regard Kcho’s use of boats in his work as a statement about the plight of those who flee Cuba’s politics, the artist explains: “ … Something that floats is a key element in my relationship to the island.”

Place: Cuba, from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.

Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center

transcript Video subtitles from Images of Memory: Cuba and the Sixth Havana Biennial Allan Parachini, 1997

My name is Alexis Leyva Machado but since I was a kid every one has called me Kcho.

I was born in Isla de la Juventud a small island one hundred kilometers south of the coast of Cuba.

At 16, I came to Havana to study at the national art school and I’ve never returned to the island.

I’m here at the El Morro, getting my work ready for the Sixth Havana Biennial. It’s a project I’ve been working on this year. It’s called The Infinite Column.

My studio has always been the streets. Some of the places I go are the docks for wood. I go along the shore and pick things up that the ocean brings from shipwrecks. These things end up at the shore and the dock. I use all these things in my work.

For me, these things that float (boats) cause a very passionate reaction. They respond to the sea as a very beautiful barrier that stops at the (island).

Allan Parachini and Barbara Pepe, video subtitles from Images of Memory: Cuba and the Sixth Havana Biennial (1997), on the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.

Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center

online content Museum: Background Information Walker Art Center, 2003

Kcho (pronounced KAH-cho) was born Alexis Leyva Machado in 1970 on La Isla de la Juventud, a small island south of Havana, Cuba. He got his nickname–from cacho, meaning “chunk” or “piece” in Spanish–from his father. A carpenter, Kcho’s father taught his young son to use hand tools and build things with wood. Like other Cuban children, Kcho was educated by the state-run socialist school system, which offered a far-reaching cultural curriculum that included art. His teachers recognized his artistic talent early, and Cuba’s national art school in Havana accepted him at the age of 14. His work began to earn attention outside of Cuba and he was invited to show his art in international exhibitions. The socialist government in Cuba has made travel nearly impossible for the general public, but in 1992, after graduating from art school, he made his first voyage out of Cuba. Since then he has been one of few Cuban artists able to travel to exhibit his works, but recently even Kcho has found it increasingly difficult to travel.

Boats are an ongoing motif in Kcho’s work. While these boats often give the illusion of floating or functioning, they cannot. In Obras Escogidas this is emphasized by the artist’s choice to place the boat on a table and construct it from textbooks he used as a student. This underscores the aspect of art most important to Kcho: Art functions as pure illusion. Obras Escogidas tries to make visible Cuba’s hidden social structure and suggests the complexity of the nation’s ideas.

Kcho, Obras Escogidas (Selected Works) (1994), from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.

Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center

artist statement Artist: Kcho Kcho, 1997

Obras Escogidas (Selected Works) is a ship constructed with some of the schoolbooks that I used, books that could have been used by any Cuban of my generation or the generation before mine. And what Obras Escogidas tries to make visible is the idea of social structure which always remains hidden. It is like putting skin on something that doesn’t have skin. Many people look at this work and only see books on Marxism and say the piece is about politics. But there are also natural science books, math and geography books. It is a work that talks about universal literature and the mix of ideas in formation.”
–Kcho, 1997

Kcho on Obras Escogidas (Selected Works) (1994), from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.

Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center