words by Yanet González Portal
Where it started and where it will end the vital space, the globe, Lebensraum and vice versa, by painter and poet Jesus Lara Sotelo? Is this book—published in 2016 by Coleccion Sur Editores—a true tip of the iceberg in the work of an artist that is almost on his 26 years of presence in Cuban contemporary culture and art?
If Lebensraum were the top of something bigger, it would be fit then to call iceberg what is supported there. Perhaps the work by this artist suffers from the recognition of his fellow countrymen, institutions and critics included. In this sort of log book is the attempt to try to explain that ALL that is now standing out with the recent publication of this book by Lara Sotelo.
Lebensraum has 154 pages that contains a significant translation to English from his poems; it is a book the author has written between the last year and beginning of this one, so it can be understood a bit his craving for inventory, recapitulation and closure, not only for the author poet, but the reader actor we turn into when we start to read these pages.
As I first said, it’s in this time and with this book that Lara has gone from being a painter that writes to an author—as predicted some years ago Cuban intellectual Virgilio Lopez Lemus—with a poetic art that turns out to be new in the bordering field of literature, where it is inevitable the pictorial, photographic and sculptural look. This is evidently registered in the follow up that so many means of communication, as many other authorized voices at the time of speaking of Cuban culture, has made this book.
In the prologue titled Imago mundo, Cuban writer Francisco Lopez Sacha warns that “Lebensraum is not a book, but a summa”, and later on qualifies it as a “parable in general of the sense of our loved, the concise and tight writing of almost all the longings of a thinker, a complex artist who needs much vital space to express himself”.
For who knows the mystery of narration, this book goes into what he calls “the conversational jungle” and manages to “bring, then, a return of the poetic image that comes through the less walked path, comes from the strength of that lyrical subject that he is capable to delve into, give opinion, investigate, create a contradictory feeling in the reader”.
But Lopez Sacha is not the only writer, or critic, or intellectual, in short, who has taken Jesus Lara Sotelo’s Lebensraum as a book that goes from being noticeable to be indispensable in the time it arises and the way it is written.
To explain this great variety of meanings this book provokes in its readers, the Cuban playwright and National Theater Award winner Gerardo Fulleda Leon argues that with Lebensraum, Lara Sotelo creates “a new imaginary space to interpret in a ludic and reflexive way how sensitive personal events are. For that he hallucinates, contradicts, breathes, encourages, re-dimensions and gets to his own illuminations. Aware like T. S. Eliot that “the human being does not stand reality”, his work proposes more than denouncing, to make us play the senses with unheard unexpected events, to reason hardly with the transgressive turbulences of what’s unprecedented”
Poet and narrator Marilyn Bobes describes in him a positive contamination of the genres: “where what we traditionally accept as poetry is widened and combined with expressions sometimes colloquial and sometimes of an elaborated metaphoric roots.
What are Lopez Sacha, Fulleda Leon and Marilyn Bobes talking about? In short, about a book where Lara steps the boundary of some of his circumstances and that of a lyrical subject that is not him, but that talks about himself and looks in his knowledge for the men in a space for the word, reflection and beauty. That, written in a continuous crossing of narrative and poetic, encloses its biggest value.
But probably the most important thing in Marilyn Bobes is when she states “If Lara Sotelo had written only this book, he would have been an inevitable author for the Cuban literary panorama and perhaps, for the one extended beyond our borders”. In the first place, here there is a voice that reveals something that is unknown so far: Lara Sotelo is a valid author within the most contemporary Cuban literature, who has not only written this book.
Probably Lebensraum invites to glance through other Lara’s publications: his first book Quien eres tú, God de Magod? (2008), written when he was 19 and 20 years old; Mitología del extremo (2009), a book of aphorisms and sentences written during the 1990s; Alicia y las Odas prusianas (2011), the first bond between ballet and his work; Domos magicvs (2013), a book where he shows a personal tribute to Cuban culture, its creators and the latest titled Lina de Feria y Jesús Lara Sotelo. A dos manos (2016), where there is a poetic meeting with Lina de Feria, also published by Coleccion Sur.
Perhaps this pertinent look to Jesus Lara Sotelo’s work will lead us to the investigation over the most than 20 books written by the author and which still remain unpublished. It leads to deepen into his own life, also with the curiosity to know the person who is capable to unfold in pages over and over again, where it is possible to get in and penetrate into the reader just like in a suitcase or a snail…
This time Lara Sotelo has presented Coleccion Sur Editores with one of his most genuine and revealing books, almost without intending to, from that other greater thing that defines his work in visual arts and in the word.
Here, I see necessary to quote the presentation text of Lebensraum, read by literary researcher Cira Romero, where she confesses:
In a first reading I thought it was a heroic book, but short afterwards I realized that it was an honest book, an idea that can make you laugh, but I uphold it because honesty is a possible mean to fight against injustices and remorse of the present world…
In this book he never abandons, not for a single moment his honesty, that which takes him to prose, to a luminosity that might qualify as simplicity, because in this book, and Cira said so too, there is a clarity in thinking, which “can be very bitter, and can say words of terrible harshness but never fake”.
With what I have said I can finish part of the first idea that originated these notes: Lebensraum has won the attention of the literary and editorial world for its clarity, and the honesty of the author with himself, with the reader and with his style, which we will see in the other books that we wish to be published soon, is part of his entire written work.
This attention leads to understand, or at least to try to understand why Jesus Lara Sotelo’s work has gone so much time without being noticed, and what or who is behind a small, reflexive, moral and even philosophical poetic art from which is hard to get rid of, and some others it forces you to close a book at all.
Here is where we can identify the tip of the iceberg or what it is to Sacha “the peak”, to Cira “is a sort of carpet of wonderful crystals on the edge of an extinct volcano and to Marilyn “is a sui generis and touching Ariadne’s thread”. That way I can place the words by other critics and also writers like Alberto Garrandés, Jesús David Curbelo, Alberto Marrero, Elaine Vilar, Alberto Guerra, Gerardo Fulleda, María Elena Llana or Lina de Feria, who from a time ago, without suspecting the future publication of Lebensraum, nor its welcoming in the literary world, qualified Lara Sotelo as “a genius of Cuban contemporary poetry”, after reading of one of his unpublished books titled Trece cebras bajo la llovizna.
In Jesus Lara’s poetry, and specifically in the collection of poems Lebensraum, its translator Omar Perez has said he had found the lineage of a way of saying that might be connected with Rimbaud’s illusions and considers it as a collection of poems where there are ideas, where the weight is on what is said, more than in the way it is said, a scarce action in the daily of the most present Cuban poetry.
This is how is defined the multifaceted and renaissance vocation of the painter, poet, photographer, sculpture and ceramist Jesus Lara Sotelo, the wise and poet Virgilio Lopez Lemus even compared Lara’s associations with genius like Da Vinci or Picasso himself. As a way to justify him, he clears:
(…) such comparative exercise can be done only when the creator possesses a deep aesthetic commitment with the existential reality, with the reflection of the world and looks at it with the eyes of the detailed observer.
And even though, specifically Lopez Lemus was not analyzing the collection of poems, it reveals a transcendental trait about his author. Jesus Lara has “a deep aesthetic commitment with reality” and “eyes of detailed observatory”. These illuminations by Virgilio foreseen what could be the entrance to all, or the body of the iceberg where it lies the work in any of the genres and expressions that constitutes a way for the expression of this poet.
This poet is a “moral man”—as said Rufo Caballero in the prologue of the only book of aphorisms published by Jesus Lara Sotelo titled Mitología del extremo—and it is confirmed today by Cira Romero, when she says:
For Lara, the mortal wound of the world we live in would probably be the horrible and incurable wound of hypocrisy and so it is expressed in not just a few of these texts that arise their voice to reveal an immense, but reparable human anguish.
It is humanity and the ethical commitment with his salvation, which illustrates the poet Jesus Lara with his words describing images, sometimes disturbing and other unsuspected. Lebensraum regarding to the term itself, came up as a term associated with naturalism and social geography, themes extensively studied by his author French Friedrich Ratzel in the late 19th century. Vital space comes to be the translation of this concept that from its beginning delimits physical thoughts and areas, a duality that the Nazi party could take advantage from but which Lara Sotelo defends in this book, giving it a more spiritual sense, healing and of tolerance.
For that Lara breaks in with the word in the pain of just a few and bring to the text a possibility, whether it is of salvation or a meeting of the man with himself. So it is explained by maestra Lina de Feria:
(…) The unease becomes coherent and his contrasted redaction finds the immense power of invention that set Lebensraum, making it typical that signifiers come with the fluency of a poet whose vital space is circumscribed to continuous mythical stories.
And what stories this book talks about? Firstly and submerged in the deep part of the text there is his own, the one of the painter apprentice, the asthmatic, the creator that discriminates between one art and the other, between one philosophy and the other. The one that opens the book with the simplicity of an idea like this: “In my imagination the fall is upwards” I mean, that at the same time it solves and offers a hope to anxiety, and discredit the tacit delight in the falls.
If we see his most famous side, I mean, the one of visual artist, we will see that his first exhibition, made when he was barely 17 years old and with autodidactic formation, was titled Me refiero al hombre. The center of that exotic join of pieces was an empty casket where Lara kept the memory and the pain of losing the first love from his childhood. To everyone’s amazement, the title of the piece was Kenia, tiempo espacio movimiento, proving that since that moment Jesus Lara warns the continuity of life, the possibility to face pain, that is: to fall upwards spiritually. That was in 1989.
During the entire 1990s, Lara Sotelo made a vast work in abstract art, in painting and in sculpture and installations, with great series like Quien sopla roe, Strong emotions, Senal proscrita or Shangai, where he intertwined the verses from his first collection of poem ¿Quién eres tú, God de Magod? with painting, to see works like Salmos de llovizna or Crepusculario. All with a strength and predominance of emotions, the falls in the affective and emotional, but always saved by the strength of brush and color.
Nothing seems alien to Lara Sotelo’s humanism, who consolidated his work with landscapes during the 2000s and never stops having as first reference the psiquis of the man, also coming from the brush and blue veils of light in search of wild land. This is described Rufo Caballero:
Perverse, Lara knows the apparently traditionally landscape is never the landscape, the direction from the outside, but a diving into the inner of the human being (…) Somehow, landscapes are Lara’s portraits.
Lara Sotelo extracts from his capacity to explore in the sensorial area all the possible source for his poetic and pictorial work: the human retreat as the beautiful, sexual or rather erotic aspect lasts in men and his different ways to express.
Also the pain, different directions and senses, as the devastation and prelude of the biblical apocalypses that led the earthquake in Haiti, the source of this polemic exhibition that titled Make Bacon in 2010, where the main work was a mural of great proportions titled Haiti es otro Guernica. Human wastes, blood, torn clothes, berths, packages…appeared here and there in the large corridor of the San Francis de Asisi Convent.
There are poems in Lebensraum that seemed like a written passage of some of the works from that sample. It could be Circos del mundo or Cadaveres en el cesped, where he tells us: “the bad work must be seen openly, the crime should be seen with eyes that burn with flames” or “the pack of bones has come to its destiny underneath a swarm of flies. The bad smell is deafening. It then sells the tickets and appears the rain”. Just like the one titled Manipulaciones: “at that time I was looking for I don’t know what dead people in my conscience”.
Other notable exhibitions of Lara Sotelo’s visual work like Boxing citadino, Circus without voice and Irla, closer temporally to his maturity and rising literary work form the last five years indicate the composed purpose of an artist that besides the research of the formal beauty in the written work as seen in canvas, photography, audiovisual, examines remotely the human condition that limits, defeats, punishes, in order to translate it into the language of love, to the hope looking for a characteristic as spontaneous and free as the man must be.
This makes of Lara Sotelo a poet in the most complete and comprehensive sense of the word. A poet who is serious and committed to what he says “a poet who has his own voice”, as Cira Romero says. A poet who “seeks his place in postmodernity,”—affirms Marilyn Bobes, and who, in her opinion—(…) has been able to reconcile us with our species when he exposes the tragic manipulations of which contemporary men are subject.
In this sense are oriented the always active analogies the author exposes in his paintings and in his books, and Lebensraum is one of those quantum, hydraulic, cosmic leaps that corroborate the upward path of a work hitherto little known, perhaps because it also causes some concern. As Jesus David Curbelo describes so well, the poetry of Lara in this book:
(…) A multiple concern for recomposing fragments and deterritorializing frontiers (geographic or mental) [which] seems a good way to face globalization and defend that ‘vital space’ that each individual, in particular, and humanity, in full, are entitled to.
Perhaps it is not explicit in these notes that this activity and multiple concerns go through the life and work of Jesus Lara Sotelo from childhood “when he studied five or six classes in advance to have a chance to draw”, since that time when “fidelity to canvas or paper has made me free”. Another reading that is not made from the freedom with which Lebensraum was written, and I dare say, all those written by Jesus Lara Sotelo, will not have the spiritual, healing and tolerant effect the author seeks with this iceberg book.
In a few reviews and interviews this collection of poems has been analyzed and which in sum is recognized by the space of its histories, by the abundance of sense that lies on it, the editorial audacity of being a beautifully designed bilingual edition and by the revelation of an author who arrives with Lebensraum after more than twenty years of “forging skills in silence,” as poet Roberto Manzano also discerns.
Since the titling of this book the essayist, narrator and poet Alberto Garrandés warns about Lebensraum’s audacity, since “nobody dares to name a book in foreign language in the Cuban literary context, because that did not seem well seen” but in this case—he adds—“there is a synchrony between the title and the contents”. In his next words he describes what Lebensraum is for him and in which I can find the answer to the question formulated at the beginning of these notes: where has the vital space, world map, lebensraum and vice versa, of painter Jesus Lara Sotelo started and where it ends? Garrandés answers:
Lara’s vital space (…) to put it briefly is the vital space of culture, culture as sea, as ocean, where it is constantly submerged, but not that it is there and does not leave there, but that culture and its way of seeing it in a certain way explain life.
It was not possible to answer with little conjecture. More brief than blunt have been the observations with which I have illustrated this journey to the before and after period of a book, written from and to the flow of life. A relevant book for his time, although it still lacks the readers’ assimilation. Surely, some of them will share my experience: first, to read it without pause; and second, to close it when facing the disturbing certainty of being in your own vital space and not only in that of its author, Jesus Lara Sotelo.
 The translation of the poems in Lebensraum was made by the also poet, essayist and translator Omar Perez (Havana, 1964).
 Words by Virgilio Lopez Lemus during the exhibition Yo también sueno con serpientes and the presentation of the collection of poems Domos Magicvs, by Jesus Lara Sotelo. (Havana, 2013). Recorded interview.
 An assertion made by Lina de Feria during a meeting with poets and other artists at Sala Villena of UNEAC, on the 70th birthday of the Cuban poet, playwright and editor. (August 17, 2015).
 Virgilio Lopez Lemus: “Jesus Lara Sotelo y un caracol nocturno nadando en un rectángulo de agua. Realidad, exageración, laberinto y belleza”. A critical text about Jesus Lara Sotelo’s poetic anthology titled El laberinto ante mi. (Havana, 2016).
 Rufo Caballero (Cardenas, Matanzas, 1966 – Havana, 2011). “Censura y cosmos, gozo y logos en el arte de Lara. Para entender su proceso de creación”. Havana, April, 2009.
 The description of these temporary leaps in the book are qualified as quantum, by Francisco Lopez Sacha, and as hydraulic, by Lina de Feria.
 To create this brief essay were reviewed the several texts written about this book by important personalities in literary critic like Lina de Feria, María Elena Llana, Marilyn Bobes, Cira Romero, Mildred de la Torre, Alberto Marrero, Alberto Garrandés, Alberto Guerra, Jesús David Curbelo, Francisco López Sacha, Gerardo Fulleda, Elaine Vilar. Besides, there were others related to Jesus Lara Sotelo’s work in visual arts written by authors like Rufo Caballero, Pedro Oscar Godínez, David Mateo, Elisa Álvarez, among others.