words by Roberto Zurbano
Jesus Lara Sotelo’s poetic work started to be pronounced from an agonizing intimacy in a struggle with the aggressive exterior before which the lyrical subject has found no other choice but to face the evils of the world by force of moral and aesthetic reasons. This literary gesture is presented with greater emphasis in his collection of poems Lebensraum, where the use of German is not casual or merely symbolic, since it is a tour around Europe where the artist acknowledges the greatness of the European art. First, he turns it into a pattern of beauty, moral and philosophy only to compare and evaluate it later according to his aesthetic needs, his existential situation and his own Caribbean patterns until being reunited with himself in an esthetical and identity dream that turns to be definite for the growth of his personal poetic arts. (14)
Such aesthetic itinerary starts with the artistic enjoyment and it moves towards a line of personal anxiety that allows him to reconnect with himself, his roots and to gradually assume his diverse identities as a black Cuban and Caribbean man marked by an intense personal history and also by a singular social history that tends to be present even just a little in his poetic texts. His interest is not history or sociology, his verses unravel the rigors of an entire life, its transgressions and its limits, and it would be an excess to ask for more. The European tour means a halt in his animal of the island speed, the search for peace or hope with which he is restoring his physical and moral architecture, through which his visions win consistency and enlightenment.
In 1884, the great colonial powers of the time gathered in Berlin to partition Africa and other places of the colonial world. Everything was organized with the art of finesse, easily justified by the need of raw material, the cheap work to get it, the promotion of the new industries in order to turn them into new products, as well as the scientific arguments, the religious reasons and the unquestionable legality of the time. That’s how Europe built modernity; it became the mother of capitalism and has continued, until today, underdevelopping our countries and boasting about its cultural refinement. That’s how many dreams of superiority were born, among them the concept that gives name to this book: Lebensraum, a book the author dominates and evaluates in the poem Monologo bipolar. (12)
“In a certain way I have always been an invalid regarding space. First, I was crushed in my mother’s womb—it was a difficult birth that almost ends in tragedy. Then, the countless ways of oppression arrived. The result was an incurable claustrophobia. However, today that is not my problem. My problem is in the Lebensraum, which in German means “vital space”, the geographer Friedrich Ratzel was the coauthor who spread the old German obsession the Nazis would later retake—along with other theories of xenophobic and pseudoscientific nature—in order to unleash an awful war that killed millions of human beings and destroyed cities to the grounds. But I will not go into details of the story that others have explained over and over again. I am of African-descent and Caribbean —in my genealogical anchor there is nothing related to the vast empire the Nazis pretended to build.
The aesthetic of the painter in this book enhances his look towards the outside and builds a very singular connection with those social processes he is going through; it does not stop being private lyrical discourse and full of personal marks and compliments, but it is a speech more open to explore his spaces and identities. This subject is every time more capable to distinguish between incriminating and discriminating. In another poem like Mística del Adelanto, our subject mentions: “I could feel the careful segregation, the secret ecstasy” and he manages to be more direct in Cristales turbulentos, another poem where he talks about “two cops that asks for my identification card”, and thus we get to see other texts like El caracol y el hombre negro or Evocación, where he starkly confesses to us: “When I was a child I was hung by the feet so I would not open my mouth during rituals. The things I could not scream back then are now coming out of me like a thick drool everyone fears”. In every catharsis there is recognition, a search for identity that reconciles us with the past and illuminates the future steps, forcing us to define our place in the present times, and this is what our poet does so clearly in his text Colores, when he says with such spontaneity:
“I am a black painter who has learned to combine color in the middle of the street, in a corner in Cayo Hueso neighborhood. The ghosts of my grandparents and some vices that with time created a crater are still in there. At the bottom of the hole there are infernal colors and others that go up every afternoon as if defying the sea. In my fingertips I carry the ink with which I paint the world”.
Lebensraum is a book that defines a process of ethical and aesthetical creation in its author; it has been a long identity process crossed by pain, by the function art had soothing that pain and for the other artistic function that is the identity self-recognition going beyond the intimate and aesthetic aspect this author gives to us with more plenitude now than ever. Lebensraum means a two-way trip, an appropriation of a Eurocentric and untrue concept in front of which our poetic subject shows himself quite active, self-critical and imaginative. From this position, he could turn the vital space into a social space, full of contemporary temporalities, racial and global events and truths. From here, the poet opens new borders, and jumps to the space of Poetry and Truth.
Cayo Hueso neighborhood, Centro Habana municipality, April, 2016.