How to disassemble a nation 5

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Henri Eric usually inquires how we can reecover and revere architectonical structures and remains of a bourgeois past, that are significant for our history and part of our identity, but considered inessential.

Cuba is a young nation, officially considered as such in 1902, when the Spanish Empire was defeated and the Republic was born (although under the patronage of USA). The triumph of the Revolution in 1959 reinforced the idea of a national identity by creating a new ideology. Like in other countries, the present can be overwhelmed by the ghost phantom of History. Ordinary life is buried beneath an Official Historiography, which catalogues almost every event as “historical” and the constant generation of a countries History.

 Henry Eric Hernández, En el patio (2014), Site specific  

Henry Eric Hernández[1] (as he states) is a transdisciplinar and social researcher artist, interested in the relations of control between History and Power, and on how the power is supported by historical narratives. His creative process includes the appropriation of archeological, anthropological or historiographical methods by which he unearths those obviated simple episodes, adding new pillars to the trembling bridge of collective memory.

Many of his works include site-specific interventions, mostly located in cemeteries. Death, when occurs in the accomplishment of duty, is largely celebrated in Cuba as a festivity and the deceased become “heroes”. But what happens with the common people? Those who are actually the protagonists of the quotidian history?

Kermesse to the disappointment (2001 – 2002) consisted in the archeological excavation on the backyard of an elementary school located in San José de las Lajas, a peripheral neighborhood of Havana. The compound had several sacral and non-religious functions: first there was a church with and adjacent family cemetery that was nurtured by terrible events of our history, then a nun’s school for girls named Love of God School occupied the terrains. The elementary school from nowadays switched the religious name of its predecessor to a new one, inspired in one of our heroes. But Henri was interested in rescuing the even more hidden history: the one of the domestic slaves of the XVIII-XIX century in Cuba. From the burial place, and with the help of archeologists, he recovered the remains of a man and a woman as well as some objects. For the remains he created marble urns and one of the school rooms was turned into a museum along with the graphic documentation of the process.

The artist confronts the official historiography by doing the unexpected: giving a postmortem monument to those who are the socially orphaned. And so he did in Spark over the rune (2002 – work in progress 2010), an intervention in the Jewish cemetery where the grave of Samuel Nisenbaum (1914-1995) was built out of marble, ceramic and bronze.

In Controversy with the ghetto (1999 – work in progress 2008) he intervened in one of the most important educational centers in Cuba: The Liberty City Scholar Complex, the former Columbia Military Quarter. Here, the artist hired some workers and restored three restrooms of the school. Due to the bad conditions of the building, the controversy was set even before the artistic intervention took place, but it was even more accentuated by the artistic gesture “of revitalizing a place that carries a big historical and functional weight”[2]. Henri Eric assumed the role of a superior administration and did their job. He was capable to overcome the (un)needed bureaucratic process and to find the resources just by being an artist.

Henri Eric usually inquires how can we reecover and revere architectonical structures and remains of a bourgeois past, that aresignificant for our history and part of our identity, but considered inessential to the Official Historiography. Fortunately, for him this is not just a wonder, he also tries to subvert them.


Carmen Doncel Sánchez. “Sobre el arte de la escucha (en la obra de Henry Eric Hernández)”. Digital version.

Dannys Montes de Oca Moreda. “Henri Eric: Mito e Historia en la percepción de lo cotidiano”. Words for the exhibition catalogue: Ni sagrado ni selular. CAC Wifredo Lam, Mayo, 2016.


[1] Henry Eric has a PhD in Media Studies from the Complutense University of Madrid (2011) and is graduated from the University of Arts (2000).

[2] Héctor Antón. “On the other border of the utopia”. Words for the exhibition catalogue Unplugged, 1999.


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