11 Feb 2011 > 09 Apr 2011
artist(s): Ernesto Leal

The significance of language whether spoken or written is a subject which throughout history has engaged many artists, philosophers and psychologists. Its evolution is ever more noteworthy in today’s world of internet and easy travel.

Through a variety of visual media, Ernesto Leal has been exploring for many years the spoken language and the written text. He investigates how they are used, misused, appropriated and subverted; comparing and contrasting the different evolution of the spoken language as opposed to the written. This is first of a series of four exhibitions by Leal on this complex theme that will be shown at Tasneem Gallery over the next two years.

This exhibition comprises work using two media:
• A series of paintings named Titles
• A video entitled Diglossia


Leal’s inspiration for Titles comes from the 18th century French philosopher Etienne Bonnot de Condillac whose ideas have been important in the development of linguistics. Condillac asserted that “The earliest forms of text were paintings.” and to this idea Ernesto Leal contrasts that: “The latest version of the painting is the text”.

Ernesto Leal speaks in his own words about the development of this series:

“The idea of the series was to convert the text of the title of the piece into the piece itself, leaving unclear where one begins and the other ends. The title determines the specific form of the piece’s image, creating an indissoluble unity in which the text, beyond its communicative function, has been formally charged to generate the image. This concealment or confusion of the text also reflects our inability to say things clearly and directly and the limitations of language in general to assume and reflect reality”.

Leal uses black and white for all the titles of the series, evoking the phrase that when one puts something in writing it is in black and white and therefore, somehow, more concrete and real. Playfully, the titles appear against backgrounds of bright fluorescent colours similar to marker pens used to highlight text. But it is in reverse – rather than highlighting parts of the text, it is the text that appears above the marker. The texts appear in tubular structures signifying the emptiness of words and that their meaning is always fluid, always changing in relation to context.


In the video Diglossia, Ernesto Leal captures words from different posters found in the street, to construct sentences and re-contextualize the information. In this way he publicly exposes messages which if openly said would be censured. Diglossia is a key concept in the field of linguistics, describing different variations of one language and how certain interactions and codes of behaviour are attached to the use of one variant or another. Cultures which are diglossic are often characterised by extreme inequalities.
About the artist

Ernesto Leal, born in 1971, is a graduate of the Art Academy of San Alejandro, Havana, Cuba. During the 80’s he belonged to the group Art Street. His work has been exhibited at many important institutions and art events including Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), in the 7th Istanbul Biennial, at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, in the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, New York, at the Museum of Modern Art (MAM), Mexico. D.F, in the Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MARCO), Monterrey, Mexico and in several branches of the Institut fur Auslandsbeziehungen (IFA), Germany. He has participated in collateral programmes of various editions of the Havana Biennial. His work is part of the Collections of Los Angeles County Museum of Art, (LACMA). USA, Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art. USA, SUNY New Paltz Foundation, New York. USA, Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis. USA, Fine Arts Museum, Havana. Cuba, and private collections in United States, France, England, Belgium, Spain, Brazil.