Where Tears Can’t Stop

Media - 1998.18 - SAAM-1998.18_1 - 13268
Copied Carlos Alfonzo, Where Tears Can't Stop, 1986, acrylic on canvas, 95 34128 14 in. (243.2325.8 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by the American Art Forum, 1998.18, © 1986, Sena Toll Artigas

Artwork Details

Where Tears Can’t Stop
Not on view
95 34128 14 in. (243.2325.8 cm.)
© 1986, Sena Toll Artigas
Credit Line
Museum purchase made possible by the American Art Forum
Mediums Description
acrylic on canvas
  • Abstract
Object Number

Artwork Description

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