José Luis Cuevas



Born in 1973, José Luis Cuevas lives and works in Mexico City. After studying marketing and advertising creation at the Universitad de la Communicación in Mexico City, he devoted his time to photography, attending workshops in the city’s Centro de la Imagen, where he brushed shoulders with major photographers such as Graciela Iturbide, Cristina García Rodero, Charles Harbutt and Arthur Tress. Today, he is director of the Gimnasio de Arte y Cultura, a breeding ground for artists founded in 2007 in Mexico City. The work of José Luis Cuevas has been the subject of many exhibitions in Mexico City and throughout the world: DongGang Museum of Photography, South Korea (2016); Voies Off festival in Arles, France (2015); Noorderlicht Photofestival in the Netherlands (2014); Somerset House, London, United Kingdom (2011). His series Nueva Era, exhibited as part of the 2013 edition of the Photoquai biennial photography festival, was published with the publishing house Editorial RM in 2016 and was the focus of a personal exhibition at the Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City in October 2017.


A kind of chronic disease

2017 Photographic Residencies

Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994, the writer dubbed ‘the enfant terrible of Japanese literature’ wrote his poetic work based on the nuclear catastrophe of Hiroshima and on his son, who was born seriously brain-damaged. Kenzaburō Ōe created a world where fiction blends with his own story in a way that the two cannot be easily distinguished from one another, so as to show the violence of humanity.

Based on themes, characters, images and ideas picked up in the photographer’s different readings and re-readings of the Japanese poet, the photographic project of José Luis Cuevas is a free, visual interpretation of the narrative, aesthetic, philosophical and social world of Kenzaburō Ōe. For José Luis Cuevas, the literary work of Kenzaburō Ōe has many points in common with the themes developed in the photographer’s previous projects: the physical and mental fragility of human beings and the need for spiritual rebirth. The whole purpose of his project therefore resides in the search for balance between his own subjectivity, the author’s aesthetics and the reality of modern-day Japan.

In line with the objectives of his residency project, the artist visited different places that represent the life and works of the writer Kenzaburō Ōe in the regions of Tokyo, Fukushima, Shikoku and Hiroshima. The Nagasaki region was initially on the list, but was ruled out in favour of the Fukushima region, preferred due to its relevance regarding the subject dealt with.

The result of this work is a series of sixty-seven images comprising female and male portraits of young and old figures; urban, industrial and rural landscapes; and residential areas affected by radiation. These shots include objects, animals, spaces and various situations that paint a narrative picture of today’s Japan from the perspective of a foreigner, based on words by the writer Kenzaburō Ōe.

What I call Japan's ‘ambiguity’ in my lecture is a kind of chronic disease that has been prevalent throughout the modern age..
Japan's economic prosperity is not free from it either, accompanied as it is by all kinds of potential dangers in terms of the structure of the world economy and environmental conservation. The 'ambiguity' in this respect seems to be accelerating. It may be more obvious to the critical eyes of the world at large than to us within the country. At the nadir of the post-war economic poverty we found a resilience to endure it, never losing our hope for recovery. It may sound curious to say so, but we seem to have no less resilience to endure our anxiety about the ominous consequence emerging out of the present prosperity. […] The way Japan had tried to build up a modern state modelled on the West was cataclysmic.
(Extract from Japan, The Ambiguous, and Myself, Kenzaburō Ōe - Nobel Lecture, 7 December 1994)

The title A kind of chronic disease replaced the project’s original title Kenzaburō, this is also a personal matter, in reference to the definition of the Japan that Kenzaburō Ōe both writes about and bears witness to, and to reflect the result of the photographic work of José Luis Cuevas’ residency. Indeed, the images that the photographer has produced evoke a desolate, atomised Japan whose prosperity and modernity are haunted both by the ghastly echoes of a distant past and by recent nuclear history. They paint a picture of a Japan whose main traits go beyond the concept of ‘monstrosity’ that Kenzaburō Ōe touches on in his works, relating an unease inherent in humans, who are destitute in the face of a society where people are unable to teach each other how to outgrow madness.
(in reference to the work Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, Kenzaburō Ōe, 1966)

Series produced between 2017-2018.