Story of a passion. Making Worlds


When crossing the exhibition hall, the public finds a work composed of 4 photographs interspersed with 5 images of anatomical illustrations. Story of a passion. This title refers to processes of bodily trauma suffered by Fernando Varela while developing a series of works that involved significant physical effort. Representing it, immortalizing it, rather than an exercise in tautology, poses a reaffirmation. Merleau-Ponty maintained that the human body belongs to both the particular and the metaphysical, and this form of preservation of the memory of this episodic and visceral element also reveals a way of seeing artistic production and experiential processes. Later, Fernando said I am my work, my work is me. With that forceful phrase he announced what was already evident, an indissoluble relationship between his life experience and his professional praxis. To curatorially approach an exhibition of the artist, it was necessary to scrutinize and reveal its experiential aspects.

Fernando Varela is a multidisciplinary artist with more than 40 years of residence in the Dominican Republic. His work covers a wide diversity of languages in which painting, drawing, sculpture and installation prevail. His artistic creation process is influenced by his sensitive contact with philosophy, specifically the theories that address the origin of the universe and the relationship of the mind with the whole; as well as with music, especially the classical genre.

In his beginnings, Fernando was influenced by the Uruguayan artist Joaquín Torres García and by great masters of the European avant-garde. When he moved to the Dominican Republic in the 1970s, he became close to some of the most important artists of that time: Fernando Peña Defilló, Luichy Martínez Richiez, José Rincón Mora, Domingo Liz. From then on, his artistic processes were crossed by teleological references and by a constant search for the construction of an abstract-figurative language that would allow, from multiple material manipulations, the creation of a code aligned with his also insistent tracking of a universal truth. , which was at the same time his.

The overall view of Fernando Varela's work, the numerous dialogues held with him and the conscious establishment of connections with literature, philosophy and music made possible the curatorial work of the exhibition project around the work of Fernando Varela.

To establish continuity with the Great Masters of Dominican Art program, the León Center presents the exhibition Worlds: the transits of Fernando Varela. This exhibition offers the possibility of knowing and interpreting a diverse, coherent body of work with a deep introspective dimension. Conceived with a certain chronological character, the exhibition proposed the evaluation of forty years of intellectual production and privileged the conceptual nuclei that were visualized from this curatorship. When the “certain chronological character” is referred to, it indicates that the works are grouped under axes that address the temporal, but that are made more flexible in their spatial arrangement. In this way, the tour would allow us to see a development over time, which would emphasize the conceptual elements and categorical nodes that Fernando works on, and at the same time allow for surprises; such as that of Ludic-Spatial Relations, the mobile that was located at the entrance, and reunions such as the new fund for America, which has been adorning the Caribbean Patio of this cultural institution for more than 18 years.

The exhibition was articulated conceptually, formally and spatially from deep episodes, triggers and intersections that made visible the journey through the formation of their particular and reflective worlds. In these approaches, one of the axes was the experience of the public as an element of vital importance for the approach, understanding and enjoyment of the work of Fernando Varela.

In relation to what is understood as episodic narration in the work of Fernando Varela, it is proposed to name episodes for the thematic nodes of the exhibition. These would consolidate the episodes that make up the total narrative of the exhibition and that would include in its axes, elements that are linked to specific moments within the artist's career. In turn, the episodes propose strategies for the interpretation of Fernando's work through categorical notions that serve as containers for an integral spatial-conceptual narrative (that is, with a beginning and an end). These are matter, body and spirit.

The episode called Matter allows access to Fernando's work from the physical and organic dimension of the work. The materiality observed in his work provides a focus that is based on time and context, and engages the viewers' senses. The experience of interaction with his work passes first through material and language components, and then through the reflective space that these provide, proposing a relationship with sensible materiality, but also with the conceptual. This episode of the exhibition includes works from the series: Constructions (1983), Sacros (1984), Readings (1987) and The Magic of Fear (1999).

In Materia we realize the relationship between Fernando's visual production processes and his place as a creative subject in a recent migrant state. The concern to generate a series of graphic articulations, with the possibility of transiting symbols of a collective nature, but with marked intimate resonance for the artist, present the entry of a stage in which the artist's discourse is influenced by the visual and cultural universe. from his country of origin, Uruguay. Consequently, figures such as the heart and the cross are repositioned on an imaginary scale, as if it were a pentagram, to produce an approach to a new reading of reality conceived from the subjectivity of its creator.

The constructive universalism that originates in the approaches of Joaquín Torres García influences an entire generation of artists, among them Fernando, to create structural assemblies based on working with diverse materials. With this, it was intended that the sign be filtered as a more reliable form of translation of the present than the language itself.

The Body episode addresses the use of body as a repository of meanings in Fernando's work. The notion of body is used to define independent entities that exist, in their production, in relation to other forms. The corporeal is identified by its relationship with the materiality of things, but also by its capacity to generate dynamics of coexistence/language/code. The body is the singular as an articulator of pluralities. Starting from the symbolic appropriation of the body as a metaphor for territory, space and individual universe, Fernando Varela builds networks of relationships with the insular, ephemeral habitability and belonging. This episode is articulated with works by: Curated Curator (2001); The silent word (2005); Fragile Dreams (2006); Alternate Spaces (2007); Caribes (2008); Origins (2009) and The Journey (2010).

In the series belonging to Curador Curado, the artist assumes his condition as a producer of meaning within the circuits of local creation, to generate a project of provocations and questioning together with the artists Jorge Pineda and Quisqueya Henríquez. This is how explorations that start from the symbology of the body and the appropriation of the exhibition space seen as a place of installation, produce a story about human physicality in the work and the artist, in the earthly and spiritual.

The place of enunciation, a concept coined by the theorist Walter Mignolo to locate the production processes within territories where colonialism produced material and subjective dynamics of oppression-oppressed in the subjects, serves to revisit the works in which Fernando reflects on the place. from where he creates: the island. The sense of the archipelago as a metaphor of the body that seeks the transcendence of the physical in its relationship with the ecological environment shows the mark of a history that degenerates into aggression towards other non-human bodies: flora and fauna. Furthermore, the migrations that have woven the narratives of these territories are also reviewed by the artist from the search for a visual pattern that would allow him to build a truth around the human.

The spiritual, as a search, represents for Fernando the thread on which visual reflections of a structural and organic nature are woven. This is why the Spirit episode addresses spirituality in the artistic production of Fernando Varela, as an instrument, as an “anchoring” tool towards understanding, or at least a glimpse, of contemporary reality. To recognize this node in Fernando's production, we started from the identification of the spiritual from sensible experience. These filters or perceptual technologies simultaneously allow the intuition of the presence of the mind, such as perception, thought, consciousness and memory, in the conceptual and formal substrate of his work. In this episode, pieces from the series are grouped together: Primary Forms (2011); Form and emptiness (2013); Fragmentations (2018); Close-ups (2020); Worlds (2020).

The possibility of intuiting realities that transcend the senses but that, paradoxically, depend on them for their perception, acquires a leading character in Fernando's searches. The artist's interest in finding a metaphor for something that contains all forms of life, while the medium itself becomes an alphabet on which to indicate translingual truths, makes Fernando's work a space of connection with what does not exist. The repetition of the image and its intertwining with a rituality that pursues the pause and the sound; in form and emptiness, the journey towards a sphere of multisensory and, sometimes, extrasensory experiences, constitute his work in a space of reflection on the worlds he inhabits, inhabited and imagines inhabiting.


In the exhibition structure, pieces were incorporated that provoke or trigger reflective processes in relation to the episode that contains them. They are moments of pause, but also starting or turning points.

Works such as Healing room (2001) are established as nodal places that allow the articulation of ideas, forms and in some way guide the gaze. In this particular work, the artist counteracted the usual anatomical structure with his own fragmentation. Each mosaic that was generated from this segmentation functioned as a kind of luminous sieve that housed a neat space for healing. He isolated each muscle and tendon and framed it in the “bricks” that built that prophylactic igloo. This piece of conceptual nature, and in which other senses, such as smell, come to play an essential role, reaffirms the fact that, from the varied symbolic strategies, in Fernando's production there is a constant encounter/search for transcendental truths and transcorporeal. As an artist who conceives life from a multifaceted truth, to which he assigns visual character through codifications, he translates the anatomical in Healing room while conceiving the work as an instrument for the provocation of calm and reflection.

On the other hand, América (2001), a work that, as we already explained, has been located in the Caribbean patio of the León Center since its inauguration, was proposed as a milestone in the transit through the exhibition. Jorge Pineda, in 2001, said of it that “Fernando took away its primary function from the object, turning it into a useless monster.” America is a symbol that transcends the territorial, social, political, economic. The introduction of symbolic visualities by the artist is based on processes of meaning that are related to his imperative need to formulate codes that contain the enigmas of reality.

Fernando Varela's body of work proposes open processes of reflection where his visual and critical enunciations coincide, ritual exerting a determining influence. The ritual in his work allows us to understand the succession of intentional actions from artistic practice, to generate a reaction in the sensory, psychological and intellectual field of the environment. Ludic-Spatial Relations (2022) in its chromatic and formal invasion of space does exactly that. Generate reaction and reflection. This experience that art provides has an impact on thought processes and is not limited to the concept, but rather combines theory and praxis.


A young woman leaves the room and settles in to read the timeline. She realizes that the dates do not follow the order she believes they should have and reads three statements on the left: From the local to the global, the artist and the international circuit; From affection to matter, art of the transcendent and cultural ecosystem. It seems that, in the end, this accumulation of dates and events makes sense.

Every exhibition is an exercise in research and an ideological approach. With Worlds: the transits of Fernando Varela, an attempt is made at flexible management of content that could oscillate between the chronological and thematic and that would always induce reflection. Fernando once said that with his work he sought to “induce the viewer into an attitude of intuitive contemplation that, at the same time, requires their participation to communicate with the spiritual and sensitive content of the work.”

Víctor Martínez, Sara Hermann, Laura Bisonó

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