The Archives: Erik Ravelo
Andrea Blanch: You’ve been living in exile since 1998. Can you tell me more about what led you to leave Cuba?
Erik Ravelo: I was a student at the Fine Art Academy. At the time, I was a rocker with long hair. I was trying to find a way to avoid military service. Then I got bald, and lost my hair. It was difficult for me in Cuba. I had a difficult situation with my family. My father left the country. I remained lonely in Cuba, living with a very old grandfather. After he passed away, it was difficult for me to think of having a future there. I was not part of the system because I’m not into politics. In Cuba, either you are really a part of the system or you are completely outside it. I started feeling the need to leave the country. When I left Cuba to go to Argentina, I had to face the reality that I have to get some money to eat and rent a house and so on. The job I found was inside an advertising agency that at the time was well known and awarded. So I started in a whole new world, that updated me in tools of communication. In the beginning, when I started working for advertising, the intention was to just make a living, but I found that there were a lot of techniques and a lot of tools that you could mix with art and concepts. It was bringing me great results. The fact is, my life since I left Cuba has always been the life of an exiled person. It’s always been a problem, as you can imagine, with visa issues and nationality. In the beginning it was really tough. Thank God, right now I’m an Italian citizen.
AB: How did you come to work with Fabrica and the UNHATE Foundation?
ER: I was working in Argentina at a news agency, and one of the guys working there was invited by Toscani, the founder of Fabrica, also a famous photographer. He spent a year at Fabrica and then came back to Argentina. When I was leaving to live in Italy, he was the one who gave me contacts and told me to send a portfolio. They called me for a two-week trial where everyone has to demonstrate their skill, and the head of the department meets you and sees how you work in a team. After that two week trial, they make a final decision if they invite you for a year. That’s what happened to me. That started my adventure in Fabrica around 2002.
AB: How would you describe Fabrica’s philosophy and mission? How is that mission different from the UNHATE Foundation?
ER: UNHATE Foundation has nothing to do with Fabrica. UNHATE is something small that Benetton did for the purpose of founding some projects. Fabrica is Fabrica; UNHATE Foundation is Benneton. Benetton comes to Fabrica to work with us sometimes. They ask us for campaigns but we don’t work for them all the time. I work for Fabrica; I don’t work for Benetton. Fabrica is the communication and research center of the Benetton Group, but we have many clients and have many projects. Benetton is just one of them.
AB: So you work with Benetton but you aren’t owned by Benetton?
ER: Well, we are owned by Benetton in a way. They are two different brands that are owned by the same people. Benetton is a clothing brand and Fabrica is the communication and research center of the brand, but it doesn’t work only for Benetton. It works for many other clients. For example, it works for United Nations, World Health Organizations. We work primarily with social issues. We want to be remembered for social campaigns.
AB: How much did Toscani influence this?
ER: To be honest, I don’t like to talk about Toscani. I don’t really like to answer these types of questions. He’s a very important artist and of course he’s inspired many people in the world.
AB: What’s interesting is when I asked you the first question, you said you weren’t political. But your artwork is very political.
ER: Yes, my work is political in terms of “politically incorrect.” It has no position. My work wants to create debate, create a consciousness. More than anything, I’m questioning things. Maybe my art becomes political, but me as a person, I don’t have a political position. I don’t belong to any party. In Cuba, you really have to be involved with official politics. Of course, the kind of work I do would have been a risk for me in Cuba, because of the situation with freedom of speech.
AB: I understand what you’re saying. But when an artist creates a work, it’s what they stand for, more or less. It’s what they think about.
ER: Yes, but they are two different things. I stand for it and I fight for it. But I do that through my work. Of course I’m standing for something and I’m standing strong, but I want to avoid the social character of the artist. I’m not into the art system or the art environment. I really don’t even like it.
AB: Why don’t you like it?
ER: It’s a conflict. What I do is like a disease. It’s something I can’t avoid. It’s like I’m sick. I do it as a natural reflex. It’s not premeditated, like, “I’m doing art,” or, “I’m doing this because I want to become this.” No, for me, it’s more something that happens to me. Artists and creators have always been really hard on me: saying that I’m not an artist, I’m an advertising guy. I’ve never had the feeling that I was well-received. To be honest, I’ve only been invited to a few exhibitions in my life. The fact is even where my art lives, which is on the web, it became a tool for people to say what they think. Because, a lot people assume it’s their own work. It doesn’t even say my name anymore. It’s on people’s profile pictures.
The nature of where my art lives is not yet well-understood by the art system. I’m an advertising guy in the art world. And in the advertising world, I’m a guy from the art world. So, I’m a hybrid. I try to avoid the judgment of some people. I think they judge me with the wrong tools. They judge me the way they would judge an artist whose art belongs in an art gallery. I’ll be glad if my art ends up inside a gallery, but that’s not the only place where it’s going to live. I don’t feel that I’m like, say, Jeff Koons or an institutional artist.
Read the full interview here.