About Villa, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Lennon and the “eloquent soberness”
by Abel Prieto
I know “the eloquent soberness” sounds horrible (like having to do with alcoholics anonymous), but now I find no other terms to describe the ability that enables Villa to say much, very much, really, without loudness or discourses or theatrical gestures.
My recent (and late) bumping into Mother Theresa of Calcutta, which Villa installed in a garden of Old Havana upon request of Eusebio, made me think of one of the main virtues of his art: soberness, which at the same time is synonymous with communicative efficiency, eloquence and ability to convince. I was tremendously impressed by that incredible little woman who prays or meditates bent on herself, as a minimum bundle irradiating humanity, hardly supported on the border of a very low marble block, very humble but full of mystery and dignity, dark, yes, but also strangely lighted. It is an extraordinary piece, a true achievement, conceived with the greatest moderation and frugality of resources. It tells us much, no doubt, about that admirable woman, but it is telling it to us from the very center of the piece, from the very black core of the metal, with nothing of the grandiloquence and fatuity many times appealed to by religious and supposedly “mystic” art.
I also think that this so characteristic seal of Villa’s, this “eloquent soberness”, which (obviously) results from a great creative wisdom, was definitive for the success of his sitting Lennon in Vedado. Many – let us say extra-artistic – reasons have influenced the exceptional echo of Villa’s Lennon, but I am convinced that the key lies in the fact that it is a masterly piece in which all that synthesis of soberness and eloquence of his, as Lezama would put it, reached its best definition.
Villa hit exactly the center of the target and chose, from among all possible forms and languages, the ideal ones to place Lennon forever among us. He handed over to my generation, which is his own, and to the younger and to the older, to Havana and to all of Cuba, a new symbol of those who remain and take root. Thanks, brother, for this present you have made to us, and thanks for all the others: the strolling Caballero de Paris and the drinking Hemingway (eloquent, though not sober in this case) and the fountain – dry or wet, it doesn’t matter – of the Pan American Villa, and that example of avant-garde political sculpture, legible and demanding, which is the Che of the Pioneer Palace, and the unusual and cheerful wink of the chip at the UCI and many others. And thanks in anticipation for those that will come.