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Where Tears Can't Stop

1986 Carlos Alfonzo Born: Havana, Cuba 1950 Died: Miami, Florida 1991 acrylic on canvas 95 3/4 x 128 1/4 in. (243.2 x 325.8 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase made possible by the American Art Forum © 1986, Sena Toll Artigas 1998.18 Not currently on view


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Alfonzo borrowed from Cuban Santería, medieval Catholic mysticism, and tarot cards to build a dense network of symbols floating in huge limpid tears. Where Tears Can't Stop reflects the violence that Alfonzo experienced before he fled with the Marielitos exiled by Castro in 1980. But the work also holds subtle clues that evoke Alfonzo's homosexuality and the fear and anger generated by the AIDS epidemic. In the mid-1980s, Americans coming to terms with thousands of deaths began to piece together enormous quilts—as the artist stitched together several canvases for this image—filling them with symbols of suffering, loss, and defiance. In Alfonzo's painting, the image of a tongue spiked by a dagger is a Santería charm against gossip and the "evil eye," two responses to HIV-positive men that were common in the epidemic's early years. Rumors and innuendo shaped the perception that AIDS was only a gay man's disease, and the evil eye recalls a widespread belief that the tears of the infected carried the virus. Alfonzo died of AIDS five years after he completed this work.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006

Keywords

Abstract

painting

paint - acrylic

fabric - canvas