Tony Capellán was born in Tamboríl, Dominican Republic. Trained as both a painter and printmaker, by the 1990s Capellán began to work in a mixed-media format, incorporating found objects that he transformed with other materials such as paint and barbed wire.
Mar Caribe is an installation whose dimensions vary according to the placement of objects. This constant shift within the presentation of the work itself is undoubtedly reflective of both the physical change of the Caribbean Sea and the social displacement of the marginal people who traverse it. The piece consists of some 500 green and blue rubber flip-flops that the artist found on the banks of the Ozama River in the Dominican Republic. The sandals are the “remains” of the poor that have passed through this geographic area. They can be arranged either as a rectangle or as a circle, thereby projecting a panoramic vision of the sea. Capellán alters the flip-flops by replacing the rubber pieces that hold the toes with barbed wire. Through this, he inserts his production within the tradition of the Duchampian “ready-made,” while simultaneously subverting it with his post-colonization perspective. The barbed wire is used to keep people in or out; it tears flesh and makes it bleed – a blunt reminder that beyond the beautiful blue-green colors of the Caribbean, this sea and region remain places of exploitation and suffering.
He studied at the Universidad Autónoma in Santo Domingo, where his thought was impacted by one of his professors, poet Pedro Mir, whose aesthetic fused a post-colonial perspective with a syncretic spirituality. Capellán continued his studies in New York City at the Art Students League of New York. In 1980, shortly after the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, Capellán volunteered to participate in their literacy campaign, forging friendships and engaging in collaborations with Comandante Tomás Borge and poet/priest Ernesto Cardenal. By the early 1980s the artist transitioned toward sculptural installation with found and transformed objects.
A maritime rope of some stranded boat, remains of childrens’ toys that saw their infancy and innocence leave, legs and arms are together in a spiral, like the takings of the whirlpool and the wind, like the rubber sandals that stayed as mute witnesses of the goodbye forever, of the cavalry of the drowned immigrants, just like the round house and details of a little tree of plastic colors, that seem to arise like the ivy, of an unpolluted white mural and seems to scatter like the cry of a baby without dreams. Everything reminds us of how fleeting and fragile life is, like smoke scrolls that rise and slip in the air. Meanwhile, the waves ontinue coming and going, just like thoughts…
His shift to installation reflected his desire to work in a flexible and adaptable idiom that would reflect the complex and polemical issues —post-colonialism, poverty, racism, the destruction of the environment— that affect the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean and Latin America. Capellán began participating in group exhibitions nationally, regionally, and internationally in 1979. In 1992 the artist participated in La Bienal Marginal, an alternative exhibition that protested the celebratory nature of the quincentennial, organized by artist/activist Silvano Lora, and presented in the homes and streets of the shanty town of Santa Bárbara in Santo Domingo. 1995 was a critical year with the solo exhibitions Marcha forzada in the Casa de Bastidas in Santo Domingo; Preguntas sin respuestas at the Central European Center for Ceramics in Amsterdam, Holland; and Exportadores de almas at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Santo Domingo. Capellán represented the Dominican Republic at the São Paulo Biennial in 1994 and at the First International Art Biennial of Johannesburg in 1995. He lived and worked in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic at the time of his death.
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