Angel Delgado makes freedom his artistic focus

Bars of soap and clamps are materials used in Angel Delgado’s Constancy.

For more than two decades, freedom has been an overriding theme in works by Cuban artist Angel Delgado, who lost his own when he defecated on a communist newspaper at a 1990 art exhibit in Havana, protesting increasing censorship by the government.

Delgado, 24 at the time, spent six months in a Cuban prison locked up with various criminals. He walked away motivated to discuss liberty and oppression through his art, and to employ different materials and techniques, namely those learned from fellow inmates who used handkerchiefs, soap and crayons to create religious-themed arts and crafts behind bars.

Delgado's "Inside-Outside, II" (2009), digital print, dry pastel and wax pencil on handkerchief.

In the solo show Constancy at Amanda Harris Gallery of Contemporary Art, there’s no mistaking Delgado’s emphasis on imprisonment—whether it’s physical lockup or a manifestation of the psyche. Bars of soap with letters carved into them are sandwiched in clamps, spelling out the inspirational words “believe” and “success” while keys, locks, chains and barbed wire appear in multimedia works.

“Inside–Outside, II” features a series of photographs taken at Cuban and Mexican prisons and printed on used handkerchiefs that are stitched together. Each one is designed to read as a sketch in a larger story. A drawing of a man in a suit, hands in pockets, looking down at them, covers half the piece. The exhibit is mostly dominated by large paintings, in which nameless and faceless members of varying tiers of society are rendered to contrast the free and the imprisoned. Each group is dressed in matching or similar clothes, a uniform style even with the suits and ties, as if to say there is either a shortage of individual freedom or all are one.

Angel Delgado at Amanda Harris Gallery of Contemporary Art

Delgado says his work references a dialogue between those on the outside and those on the inside. That includes two recent paintings, titled “Parallel Stories” (1 and 2), in which line drawings of solitary homeless people living and sleeping on the street appear as ghostly images in the background while other members of society tend to their usual tasks.

In his work, it’s not always spelled out who is and isn’t suffering behind the real and imaginary bars, nor do the images seem overtly saccharine. It’s more of a consideration of limitations and restrictions that some experience, presented through illustrations and juxtapositions that Delgado wants to leave open to interpretation—not as extreme as the performance piece that landed him on this path, but literal all the same.

Constancy Call for hours. Amanda Harris Gallery of Contemporary Art, 900 Las Vegas Blvd. S. #150, 702-769-6036. Artist performance July 17, 6-9 p.m.

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