Recently, David Palacios was in Lagos for his first solo exhibition organized by African Artists’ Foundation and Ford Foundation. The exhibition, “Save the Data” is a part of a bigger project “Art Report” which he started in 2013.

David Palacios is more than just an intuitive artist. Very methodical in his approach, every detail in his work is deliberate. Each stroke, colour, right down to the installation materials are symbolic, connected and relevant to the information being conveyed with his work.

A Cuban–born artist, Palacios graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts and the Polytechnic Institute of Industrial Design, both in Havana, Cuba.

Roli Afinotan met with David Palacios at Omenka Gallery during the set-up and installation toward the exhibition opening. Here, they engage in a conversation about Save the Data and his art in general.

Roli Afinotan: How would you describe your work and style of art and how long have you been practicing as an artist?

David Palacios: I studied in the Havana Art School and Institute of Graphic Design in Cuba. I did graphic design in the morning, and arts, at night. This was in 1987, and this is very well reflected in my work. In 1991, I moved to Venezuela. This is important to know because I stopped working as an artist when I got to Venezuela. I lived in Venezuela for 16 years and for the first 7-8 years, I didn’t practice art. I was a typical immigrant trying to make a living and with the graphic design, it was easier to pay my bills and rent. After 7 or 8 years, I started again. So there was this huge interruption between Cuba and Venezuela. But now, I am a full-time artist.

As for my work, it is important to me that my work connects with reality and society; I try to make a connection between art and what happens in the society. I refer to my work as a form of memory, as I use my work to keep information of where we are as a society at a particular time. It’s a social art as well as political. 

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RA: What is the project ‘Art Report’ about and what inspired the documentation?

DP: Art Report is simply portraying local or international report through art. It is visual reporting through art. Social issues: poverty, military spend, and other issues that not just affect Africa but globally as well. I am trying to translate information from news organizations into art. Art Report can be described as a metaphoric news agency.

The methodology of this is important and this is how it works. The first stage is the investigative process where I source for news and decide to prioritize, what to translate and why. Which is important to show and what medium is best for what kind of news and then show the infographic and mixing it with art. An example is a series “Graphics Painting”, the painting in the graphic is made with the same percentage of paint in the data quantity but the image is not connected to the topic in the statistics. For instance, the data talks about slavery in Africa and the image is of a swimming person. One might ask the relationship but the main purpose of the image is to be attractive but I represent the news in the paint percentile. For example, if the news says 80% of people, I use 80% of a particular paint and if it quotes 20%, I put 20% of another colour of paint. So you see it’s not about the image but the methodology.

RA: Have you exhibited Save the Data or any work from Art Report anywhere else before? What was the reception like?

DP: I started Art Report in 2013. In 2014, I had my first solo exhibition in Miami, called ‘Breaking News’. I have also shown in Abuja twice. Sometimes, I do solo shows and other times as a collective one. The reception has been interesting. The audience really connected with it and interesting conversations have stemmed from the audience about it.

RA: You are quite methodical in your art expression such that your work seems heavily reliant on statistics. Do you do the research yourself or work with a team, and how do you get your data?

DP: No, I do not work with a team but I am connected with some news organizations that provide me with news or research that you would not readily find. For example, Global Slavery Index provides me with information because they are very excited about what I do and they see it as an avenue to connect to a wider audience. I have contact with a number of their team. They have a free website but still they provide me with information based on a personal request. 

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DAVID PALACIOS (L) AND GUESTS (R) AT THE OPENING OF SAVE THE DATA EXHIBITION AT OMENKA GALLERY

RA: What do you hope for Save the Data to accomplish from this exhibition and in a general context?

DP: Something changes the minute people know of this kind of information. This is, after all, a different kind of report. Juxtaposing the old and the new; take for example, with slavery index, you find that nothing much has changed in the past and now. Poverty, prostitution, exploitation, are all forms of slavery. Slavery still exists today in varying degrees in all countries. So Art Report brings to consciousness these things in the mind of the audience, opening them up to what is going on in the society. 

RA: Are there other series created from the Art Report Project?

DP: Art Report is an ongoing project. There is Breaking News and now, Save the Data.

RA: What other projects have you worked on?

DP: Not too many. There is Statistically Speaking ’a series I did some time in 2009. But most have been commissioned works from organizations who are interested in my art form. And here unlike my personal artworks, I don’t really enjoy much flexibility and freedom as I would like.

RA: What is it like living in Abuja as an artist? How much inspiration do you get from living in that part of Nigeria?

DP: (Laughs) Not much inspiration really. Abuja is more of a governmental city than it is an actual city. It is a work in progress. I have been living there for 3 years and each year, there is a slight change but it is nothing like Lagos. Lagos is a real city. It is huge and vibrant. This is the reason I escape to Lagos. If I am not travelling out of the country, I can’t stay beyond 3 months at a time in Abuja. I come to Lagos, breathe, visit galleries and theatres, and then go back. Abuja is a good base, though. I like to stay in Abuja because it is easy to get into Lagos. But generally, Nigeria gives me a lot of inspiration because it gives you a lot to think about.

RA: You explore both graphic painting and hand painting in your work, which is your preferred medium?

DP: None. I just choose what is most suitable to convey the information. My work is more contextual than it is conceptual. First, the idea, then the medium and this goes as far as even the little detail. Many people think my favorite place would be an art shop but no, my favorite place is an office and stationery store. There I can find things people use in the office, like pins, clips, folders, all these I use in my framing and installation. I try to have a control over how all of the elements in the piece of work are connected. For example, my works usually have a black background. The black is a special protagonist. This makes the percentile colours stand out. This gives the proper idea to the audience. 

RA: Tell us something people don’t know about you or your work.

DP: (Laughs) I wouldn’t know what people don’t know about me because they have not told me. But in my experience as an artist, there are some people who are not happy that I use this information in my work. One problem I particularly remember was in 2005, I was working with data but this was not Art Report. I was working on a project concerning Human Right in Venezuela. There was this NGO who makes this report yearly and I was using a style very similar to a Venezuelan artist popular in the 50s, Carlos Cruz-Diez. I used his paint methodology to show this kind of information. It was close to an illegal situation with them because he is one of the master artists of Venezuela.

After that, there was a collective exhibition in Venezuela, and I was invited to exhibit my work, an infographic on Human Rights and the director in the last minute before the opening decided to censor my work. This led to a big controversy which lasted about a week in papers about what happened.

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The exhibition Save the Data is currently open and will run until Friday, 24th June 2016 at Omenka Gallery, Lagos. 

Featured Images courtesy of David Palacios and African Artists’ Foundation.