Belkis Ayón. The preamble to an infinite journey to earth.
December 1, 1999
© Extramuros, 1, December 1999, pp. 25-26
For us, weary of the tumult and bad nights, reaching Alamar (land of promise) meant, among other things, being able to verify that there was still a full place, devoid of hatred and betrayal; a castle where we could exercise ourselves in the greatest and clearest spiritual tranquility. Then Belkis would appear with her enormous eyes of an Egyptian goddess, she ushered us in, and no one dared to let go of her spirit anymore, and we would be left hanging comfortably by her smile, her contagious optimism.
I see Belkis as that mysteriously invulnerable woman, ready to offer us the best spaghetti in Havana and the clearest beer, capable of satiating the appetite, thirst, and fatigue of the most demanding traveler; I see her there with her kind and enthusiastic face, giving each of us a torrent of affection and vitality.
When I met her in San Alejandro, I was just another student in the evening course with an avid interest in printmaking. She was already the artist that everyone admired, a teacher of two groups of students in the day course, quite numerous. With somewhat excessive persistence, in which I silently slipped away among her disciples and patiently waited for each moment of respite to ask her any technical or conceptual concerns, to which she responded without the slightest qualm, without the slightest suspicion. At the end of my four years of studies we had become very good friends, and by chance, almost always unpredictable, she ended up being the opponent of my thesis.
I remember her as one of those essential teachers, very concerned for her students from San Alejandro, to whom she gave all her knowledge about engraving, including very expensive materials that she managed to buy on her travels, or others that were donated to her by foreign friends; catalogs and all kinds of information that he managed to collect. For a long time, the Chair of Engraving of Saint Alexander survived thanks to his unrelenting interest. She was an irreplaceable friend, and I can't stop thinking about her eyes, with her always encouraging words.
For Cuban culture, impeccable work will remain, overflowing with perfection and constancy, of exquisite elegance. A path opened by someone who dedicated a large part of his days to specially promoting Cuban engraving, with unquestionable seriousness and professionalism. For Cuban culture, it is the gross and useless loss of an artist who with her scarce thirty-two years managed to climb the highest levels of national and international culture in the plastic arts, with an astonishingly mature work, of great originality and spiritual depth. .
For those of us who loved her, for those of us who were by her side, something more intimate, more imperishable, will remain. We will be left with his goodness, his disinterested way of giving himself, his concern for everything that meant the well-being of his family and his friends, which was the same; his desire to always achieve a fair and happy future for artists and friends.
I remember now when he received one of the prizes from the Puerto Rico Engraving Biennial, one of the most important graphic arts events on the continent. It was a moderately happy surprise for her; I could assure you that he received it with a certain amount of modesty. However, I very well remember her inordinate joy and pride when Abel (1) visited La Huella Múltiple, and with her, he toured each of the exhibition halls, which he had appreciated in their exceptional quality. I looked at his eyes and could perceive endless wonderful thoughts, plans for engraving, opportunities never latent before as up to that moment, and then we remembered all the difficulties to carry out the event, the early mornings of work at the UNEAC putting together the catalogs, the money that was not enough and that much of it came from his pocket; the difficulty of assembling many of the pieces, the fatigue, the sleep, and although we always had the conviction that La Huella ... would cost us a lot, now, while we talked about Abel and all that, we knew deep inside that the effort would not it had been in vain.
Her work as Vice President of Plastic Arts at UNEAC, for many of the engraving artists who knew her, was a saving dream; there was someone who gave engraving its true importance, such a laborious technique and so much tradition in Cuban culture. Belkis was not only a very responsible artist but also was absolutely affordable for any artist, not only for the most important but also, since they paid special attention, to those less known, less "privileged".
He had a special agglutinating capacity, thanks to which he carried out any event, counting not only on the engravers but also on the sculptors, the photographers ... To all this he gave himself with absolute devotion, leaving aside, even, his own work of creation.
Today, while making the same trip that I did so many times, I think about the time that Eliseo left us (2), and I cannot conceive of including Belkis in that immaterial, insubstantial time; I try to understand their essences, their latitudes, and I cannot manage their body and spirit through those labyrinths.
For some, it is the unspoken and irreversible end. For others it is one of her many trips, one of which inexplicably sometimes she returned very depressed, even having done very well professionally.
For me, it is neither one nor the other. I still know that he will be there, in his castle (and ours), waiting for the first traveler, thirsty, spreading his arms. I know this is absolutely true and I don't want to be fooled. We share too many joys, too many sorrows, too many truths, and although for all this means a selfish and terribly devastating loss, we will try to be calm. I wonder about the things that we did not say to each other, because of how dark no one perceived, about the things that we did not understand, and then I think:
How else would I see suicide, if not as a prelude
of a fervent banquet, and tell each other why it would be worth
very little to strip ourselves of our sardonic sorcery
as if all our anguish ended there, where the water
runs transparent and the salt shines like gold
vomited by a goat. How else would we see emptiness.
One and the other are voracious objects that our exhausted youth
possesses, a relic of knowledge that is spent so inevitably
like our children. Love accompanies bodies
when they die. A fine line divides the stones and desire.
Patience. Before the yew tree, patience. After the desserts,
slow and infinite patience.
Then I arrive at the door of that wonderful castle. When it opens
the door she appears, says "hello", and her huge eyes pull me,
Apprehending me for all eternity
(1) - Abel Prieto, Minister of Culture of the Republic of Cuba. (N. of the publisher)
(2) - It refers to the Cuban poet Eliseo Diego and his poem "Testament", where he bequeaths to future generations "the time, all the time." (N. of the publisher)