Words at Pepe Menéndez Poster Show

November 2, 2007

Center for Cuban Studies, New York | November 2nd • 2007

The very first time I heard Pepe Menendez’s name, it was at the top of a “black list” of graphic designers. It wasn’t that big of a deal, just an insignificant discrepancy with the dean of the Design Institute we all graduated from. It was 1997. I was in my 2nd year, and I remember talking with my friend Laura about the issue, and how amazed we were about the fact that somebody was challenging the Dean’s authority. Three years later Laura and I graduated. One year after that, I ran into her and Pepe in a Gallery, they were dating. Two more years and I was signing as a witness to their marriage.

Pepe Menendez is a good catch. He is the Perfect Cuban Graphic Designer. He embraced the legacy of his great uncle -Garcia Cabrera- an astonishing graphic artist of Havana’s belle epoque. He had a Bau Haus childhood in Germany that saved his soul from the influence of russian cartoons that the rest of us grew up with, and cherished as a kind of guilty pleasure. He is, probably the first, of the first generation of Cuban designers that graduated from the Instituto Superior de Diseño, the only University of Design in Cuba. He finished his studies in 1989 which was a turning point for Cuba’s destiny, when new national necessities created the need for a new national design.

Today in his 40’s, he represents the generation between the masters from the 70’s and the new wave of young Cuban graphic designers. But his posters, magazines, book covers, awards, recognitions, travels, juries, exhibits, conferences, talent -tons of talent- are coupled with his most valuable quality as the Perfect Cuban Graphic Designer: he is STILL there. He never left Cuba and found the way to connect and to stay connected, having the best of both worlds, in and out of the Island. And for this reason he has became the official/unofficial -ambassador for all of us. He has the voice, the respect and the wisdom.

2007 could not be a better year for Cuban Graphic Design. During october Havana was the international capital of graphic communication. Just five days ago the Congress of ICOGRADA (The International Council of Graphic Design Associations) ended. This event celebrated and explored innovative perspectives on the intersection of contemporary culture and design, the evolution of design, the influence that culture has on design, how design is shaping urban identities, and the opportunity to use design as a tool for economic development.

Executives of AIGA, Moma, Pentagram New York, among other big fish were there. So it seems like Havana is in the news again. Four hundred delegates from fifty seven countries, congregated in Cuba to talk about design and culture. It seems like everybody wants to be in the picture, everybody wants to have the postcard  to see the before and after. I wonder how many of the people who visit Cuba can really understand the Cuban reality? The complex, intricate, astonishing and surreal day by day in Cuba. There are a lot of people asking what’s gonna happen with the Island in the few years to come?  The future of Cuba is a huge question mark floating in the Caribbean sea. A very bold one. So let’s talk about what everybody wants to talk about.

The editorial designer that will type the title announcing Fidel Castro’s death to the Cuban readers is walking the streets of Cuba as we speak. The illustrator that will launch his image to the world maybe is in this gallery. The creator of the icon that will reduce the Commander in Chief to his graphic essence -like Korda’s Che Guevara- has already been born. These three artists probably don’t know each other but are bound to one another by a tie much stronger than ideologies, antagonisms, accents, or time zones: The Cuban Revolution. Whether in agreement with or in opposition to, the Cuban Revolution is an umbilical cord that ties us to the island. There is not one Cuban alive that has not been touched by the Cuban Revolution. It will be an enormous responsibility for Cuban graphic designers to communicate the “truths” of the Revolution once the generation of the Sierra Maestra has passed. It is a huge responsibility for the Cuban graphic communities in the diaspora to draw attention to, promote and give credit to the designers that have made the decision to stay in Cuba, because they witness the everyday events that take place there. Each and every one of Pepe Menendez’s and Eduardo Marin’s posters shown here today are rare jewels because of their exuberant excellence and because of their graphic testimony of a culture of resistance. Those of us who left, have undergone a mutation through an enriching process of adaptation. The distance does not make our vision less objective. However, our truth will always be a second truth. It is the juxtaposition of these two perspectives- those on the island and those far from it- the most sensible, just and democratic way of drawing a face of the Cuba to come, whatever that means. Perhaps in that chorus of voices, where everyone says what has to be said, we find we have more in common than antagonisms. A real dialog is what I am talking about. Because the water that surrounds us is isolating enough. Although, I should say, I am very pleased to be here on this Manhattan night, with all of you and surrounded, once again, by water. Gracias.


Carlos Zamora


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