Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Maximino Cerezo: "Prophets exist outside the church structure"

Liberation theologian and artist Maximino Cerezo Barredo is enjoying a renaissance of interest in his work following the publication this year of a book about him in Italian, Un viaggio latinoamericano -- Maximino Cerezo Barredo: uomo, artista, missionario by Sara Favre (Forum Editrice, 2012). There is also a new website www.minocerezo.it devoted to Mino Cerezo's oeuvre, including a catalog of many of the murals he has painted throughout the world. It's an impressive virtual gallery that's very much worth visiting if you haven't had the good fortune to see the murals themselves. And, of course, many readers of this blog are already familiar with the plainer collection of Mino's work on Servicios Koinonia, from which we get his drawings that we use to illustrate our translations of José Antonio Pagola's weekly biblical reflections. And now an interview with the artist himself...

by José Manuel Vidal (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Periodista Digital
November 12, 2012

Maximino Cerezo is a consecrated liberation theologian and artist. He's a Claretian and his work is spread over half the world, but he says that Latin America "turned him around." A friend of Pedro Casaldáliga, he highlights [the bishop's] "radical, not theoretical, faith" and states that "prophets exist outside the church structure."

An expert on Latin America, Maximino thinks that "the cultural level of Hugo Chavez is superior to that of many European heads of state." And for the old continent, he wishes a liturgical renewal. "People pray for more vocations, but the seminary is an obsolete institution."

How did your painting vocation arise? Has it been there since childhood?

Well, yes. Since I was a tiny kid, I've doodled more or less successfully. Then I studied religion in Gijón, where there was a quite significant artistic environment, propitious for developing art. I began to paint as an amateur, and continued to work with the Claretians.

Were you aware of your talents as a boy?

Painting attracted me. I was the one in charge of destroying my father's books by drawing on the blank pages. It was a hobby that later became solidified. When I studied theology, I discovered that it was a world that fascinated me. There I got in contact with various journals, with the Dominicans in France...

Did your religious vocation emerge after, or at the same time as your artistic vocation?

It didn't have anything to do with it. My religious vocation emerged during a Juventudes camp, talking to a chaplain who started badgering me. He made me think a bit, and then I decided to do it. The truth is that throughout my life I've wanted to combine the two vocations.

And do you think you've achieved it?

At least I've tried to. It isn't easy. It caused me trouble because I combined the two vocations in the world of the poor, of liberation. And that gave me opportunities that many artists haven't had. Being a priest and hearing the call from the world of the poor and feeling that, coming from a rich world like the European one, you choose the world of the poor, and you want to convey what's happening in that world...that's been very important to me. Before going to Latin America, I painted like everyone around here paints -- very airy things, very European colors and subjects...Until the world of Latin America turned me around.

During the time in Europe, did you meet Kiko Argüello?

Yes, we were both doing Fine Arts in the same period. I was in one class and he was in another, but we got together. That's when the change took place in Kiko Argüello, who appeared before the students as an atheist, until he did the Cursillo de Cristiandad, and the Cursillo changed him completely. Then he led everybody to pray and make a Via Crucis to a church on Alcalá Street.

Was he good artistically?

Yes. Now he's into those byzantine things, reproducing icons...He was a good painter, but now reproducing the icon forms in religious paintings seems to me to be outdated. It's a [style of] painting that doesn't represent the world of the poor at all.

Nonetheless, Rupnik also follows this line of angelical, almost disembodied, painting.

Disembodied, yes. We were working together a while, but later our paths were very divergent. For me, America was living and being born again.


But didn't you convert to the world of the poor during an experience you had in the Philippines?

Yes. Well, everyone is always being converted. I've had many conversions in my life but one of them was, indeed, on a very small island in the southern Philippines. You could walk around the whole perimeter of the island in an afternoon. There, I was invited by the bishop of the diocese or prelature, who came to Spain when I was doing Fine Arts. He invited me to paint and do some works in the cathedral he was building, so I went initially for three months, but then the thing got extended and I was there longer. I was living like a priest then, in the worst sense of the word: I was the spiritual director in a dorm, I had my private car, I was a Fine Arts teacher, a chaplain and an Architecture professor...in contact with the little lords of the university, but in an environment in which one could already note the change from Spain, where the cops would come in to the university and high schools to punch people out. So it was a major leap.

Is your painting still in that cathedral?

It's a mosaic-mural. I was going to do a painting but failed because the background of the wall was made of cement and sand, but sand with sea salt. It couldn't be. So I changed it into a mosaic and I also made the stained glass windows and stations of the Cross.

And so the definitive conversion to the poor was in Latin America?

When I was living here, I was mulling over the issue of the university. "That's not for me," I said to myself. To the world, I wondered why I was wasting my time with these kids who would call me at night because they had spiritual doubts about whether or not it was a sin to kiss their girlfriends. Either that or they would talk to me about masturbation. With no sort of interest in social issues. When I came back from the Philippines, the province had just accepted a very neglected zone in an area in southern Peru, in the jungle. But there weren't the people. Those who had it wanted to leave, so the bishop went to Rome and talked to the Claretians. So I went and said I wanted to go, and at the beginning they said no, that I was in the university, that I was the least likely to go...I insisted, and finally I was commissioned to find more people. They sent me to the houses, the high schools, to look for young people...I went and talked to them and we got a team of six. We went to Cóbreces and held a retreat there. It was 1968 then, when the Medellin meeting, which was so important, took place. That same year Pedro Casaldáliga went to Mato Grosso. And I went to Latin America two years later.

Did you always have a special chemistry with Pedro?

Yes. We're from different provinces -- he's Catalan and I'm from the north -- but we worked together on a journal of testimony of which Teófilo Cabestrero was the editor in chief, Pedro, the director, and I, the artistic director [IRIS-Revista de Testimonio y Esperanza]. We were working on the same team for 3 or 4 years, and a very intimate and personal relationship emerged from that, a very fraternal one. Not just like two friars who know each other, but something deeper -- friends who agree on many things. For me, Pedro's testimony was very significant, and it might be that my calling to America comes in part from that.

Do you even agree along the artistic vein? Could your painting complement his poetry? Is there a sort of symbiosis?

Yes, there's a special relationship. I illustrated the first book of poety he came out with without having any idea of what Brazil was like. But through his poems themselves, when I got to know Brazil later, I realized that I had had quite an intuitive vision of the world in which Pedro Casaldáliga moved.


What is so seductive about Pedro?

A huge personality and radical -- not theoretical -- faith. A faith of deep commitment to personal poverty and to poverty as solidarity with the world of the poor. And to the causes of Latin America and the world of Liberation. Pedro identified totally with it.

Why are there no longer practically any people like him, no longer any prophets?

Ask the Holy Spirit. Although I don't know if it'll answer you. There are no more prophets. I suppose some will emerge in another historical time because if we believe in the Holy Spirit, it won't leave the Church this way. But these times are anti-prophetic. Now we're in the second period of slavery of the People of God, a Babylon. And people keep praying for vocations, for people to go to seminary! When the seminary is already an obsolete institution, finished. Putting people in seminary is denying propheticism. Prophets exist outside the church structure.

How can this be changed?

I don't know. But I hope it changes.

During the period of Pius XII we were worse off than now, and suddenly a Pope came who turned everything upside down. Do we have to wait for something like that to happen again?

Yes. The Spirit blows when and where it will; nobody knows where it's going. When you're most worried, it suddenly appears.

What do you want to convey with your painting?

I learned the strong colors from the Latin American world -- very different from the grays and ochres I used here. I learned to use those pure bright colors in Latin America, like those used by the women who make cloth in Guatemala. What I want to convey through painting is God's way of being that is embodied in the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth. He's not a distant, absent God, but a God who became human in Jesus. But not for mankind in general, rather starting from the option for the poor.

A God whom one sees in your paintings even suffering and crying like the poor?

Of course. Jesus was continually proclaiming the Passion to his disciples and they didn't understand it, and moreover they were afraid to ask. What I'm trying to convey is the paschal situation of the Latin American people -- between life and death. A death that leads to the Resurrection, as the Latin American people have in fact resurrected so many times. The blood of so many martyrs caused by the persecution from so many military dictatorships is producing a series of small groups, small church base communities that are scattered throughout the territory of Latin America, perhaps under different names (study group, Christian community,...) that are taking up the banner that was carried by those who began the struggle.

So it isn't true what they sometimes say, that liberation theology is dead?

No.

On the contrary, couldn't it be said that liberation of the people is bearing fruit, for example, against North America?

Yes. But in a different way than the concept of liberation we had in the 60s and 70s, which was, rather, liberation from the people's economic problem, material poverty. The world of liberation theology has broadened among indigenous people, peoples of African descent, women...The world of the poor doesn't end at the economic limit.

Evo, Lula, Chávez... didn't they emerge from there, from the same clay?

Lula, yes. And Chavez too. And Correa. Correa had a lot of contact with the Latin American thinkers of Ecuador and with the European theological world. Chavez is one of the most intellectual heads of state we currently have in Latin America. His cultural level is superior to that of many of the European heads of state, as is Fidel Castro's.

But in Europe they treat him just the opposite.

Of course, but who is treating him like that? Those who have their own interests. Economic ones, usually. Look how they treat poor Evo, who's a very classy guy, too. They did the same thing with the Mexican fellow from Chiapas, Subcomandante Marcos -- treating them like crazy people.

Where are we going, both at the societal and the church level? What do you think are the trends?

I think we're going towards small communities that live out the faith intensively through a process of conversion. With a commitment to an austere life, with an ecological perspective that we have been neglecting for a long time. I think we're going to abandon the triumphalism of Christianity as the Constantine regime, to arrive at the small seed that Jesus talked about, that's going to grow but without attempting anything more.

Have we lost the cultural war, the one of beauty, of literature...?

Our way of speaking is totally incomprehensible for today's world. With the knowledge of astronomy that we have, what does this business of "God above" mean? There's a language we use in the liturgy and in the Eucharistic prayers that is completely alien to the younger generations. The old ones tolerate it, but they're the only ones. There are priests (not those of Opus Dei or the Legionaries) who accompany the people, and who are helping the older people jump from the era of the Catechism to a post-conciliar vision. And they're getting into it little by little.

I'm working with Emiliano Tapia who's a pastor from here in Salamanca who has a working class barrio and two rural villages. We're trying to train a group of adults in a different vision. So here I've found an environment very similar to the one in Latin America. But it's very special. Emiliano Tapia isn't like most of the clergy in Salamanca. He works in the jail, takes inmates who are on parole to his house, gives food to some 20 undocumented people (Latin Americans, Nigerians, Arabs...). The world of the poor is also here, and it's also a challenge.

Apart from this catechetical and support work, are you still painting?

Yes. I just finished a painting for one of those rural villages. In the latest one I'm painting, the characters have traits that are a bit mestizo.

Are you now getting closer to Europe?

Somewhat. But I'm still painting many things for Latin America.

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