Bios taken from the FUAM exhibition brochure. Spanish translations included in brochure.
Manuel Mendive Hoyo b. 1944 The legendary Manuel Mendive’s art celebrates the deeply ingrained roots of Afro-Cuban religion and culture. His vibrant work is rife with symbolism strongly influenced by the Santería religion, which developed in Cuba among West African slaves. Santería means the “worship of saints,” and is a system of beliefs that merges aspects of the African Yoruba religion with elements of Roman Catholicism. Orisha saints, priests, and protective Eleguá spirits surrounded by natural elements, such as water and trees, and in some cases even painted on palm tree bark, convene harmoniously in luminous paintings. These biomorphic figures are half-human and half animal, some with wings and others with three legs, a reference to both the trinity in Catholicism and the trinity of body, spirit, and nature embraced by Santería and visualized by Mendive. Mendive, who graduated from San Alejandro Academy in 1964, a few years after the Cuban revolution, has always worked in a variety of media, ranging from pastel, painting, bronze, and wood sculpture to musical ritual performances, in which he paints the bodies of the dancers, creating a living artwork. In his paintings as well as his performances, undulating figures with mask-like faces interact with one another and their natural environment in a rhythmic and fluid manner as they embark upon their metaphysical journey. Mendive’s incorporation of natural objects, such as shells, sand, and thread sewn into the canvas, emphasize the importance in Yoruba spirituality of embracing the earth to attain profound consciousness and transcendence in fulfillment of one’s destiny
Eduardo Roca Salazar “Choco” b. 1949 The artist and master printmaker known as Choco is internationally recognized for his collagraphy, a printmaking technique in which the image is composed from a variety of found objects placed on a plate, then inked and pressed. The son of agricultural workers from a village near Santiago de Cuba, he was one of the first artists of the post-revolutionary period to benefit from the nationalization of schools in the 1960s. Due to the shortage of materials in the 1980s, a result of the US embargo and the Soviet Union’s economic crisis, artists such as Choco had to be resourceful. For this reason, he started using objects such as rope, cigar labels, sand, and fabrics to make his prints, giving them a three-dimensional and textural quality. This process informs the meaning of his works by reflecting the everyday life of Cubans and the complexities of their racial makeup. By using objects, such as cigar wrappers, he embeds the prints with a deep layer of local historical significance. As an Afro-Cuban, Choco addresses the challenges of racial identity in a society and state that suppressed African heritage, spirituality, and culture. His geometric and abstracted heads capture the diversity and racial mix of Cubans with their African mouths and oriental eyes, resulting in what he considers a “universal man,” who embodies the complexities of human experience. The arrow in his portraits represents the path from the realm of spirits to that of the living, or the past to the present, referencing the pervasive influence of his ancestry and origins.
Luis Enrique Camejo b. 1971 A master of the urban landscape, Camejo left Pinar del Rio for Havana at a young age to study at the National Art School (ENA) and later attended and taught at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), dedicating himself to the discourse of painting. His distinctive style arose from his blurred photographs, which he translates effectively into watercolors, and eventually paintings. He edits these images and paints them with a monochromatic palette in hues of grey, black, or blue, thereby conditioning the gaze and filtering the scene. Camejo infuses his evocative paintings with a nostalgic, romantic quality. Often devoid of humans, the cityscapes convey a sense of loneliness, isolation, and longing. These under-populated evanescent scenes resemble snapshots in which only certain elements, such as a car, bike, or light fixture, are distinctly captured. Iconic objects, such as Soviet cars and trucks, are monumentalized by their status and necessity. A common theme is the Malecón, the broad esplanade, roadway, and seawall along the coast of Havana. With its stark concrete wall, it embodies the entrenched separation between Cuba and the limitless world beyond, the noise of Havana and the quiet expanse and nothingness of the ocean. While his oeuvre consists predominantly of rainy scenes of Havana, his recent works reflect his travels abroad and reveal his consistent visual questioning of how objects and sites define their respective societies.
Abel Barroso Arencibia b. 1971 Early on in his career at the Instituto Superior de Arte, Barroso was recognized for his woodblock prints, which eventually led to his distinctive idiosyncratic wooden sculptures. In the 1990s, he began placing his carved woodblocks on the wall and the respective print on the floor, deconstructing the order and process, and emphasizing the matrix over the final impression. These matrices eventually became independently carved and inked wooden sculptures take the form of cell phones, calculators, computers, and games. His whimsical and ironic creations invite the beholder to interact with them and activate their primitive functionality by manipulating their archaic mechanisms. Themes of immigration and the effects of globalization and technology pervade Barroso’s work. He uses political humor and wit to address the difficult economic situation in his country, balancing contrasting perceptions of unique works of art and mass reproduction, fine craftsmanship and roughly fashioned handicrafts. His clever wooden constructions, made without the use of glue, nails, or screws, exemplify the challenges in accessing new technologies in Cuba. Together with his works on paper–painstakingly made out of hundreds of tiny pencil shavings–they parallel the arduous challenges Cubans experience in everyday life and the obstacles to emigration. Barroso explores the tenuous notions of borders by focusing on the socio-political frontiers that he witnesses every day. His recent works are broad and universal in scope, commenting on the tensions between cultures and the obstacles faced by migrants throughout the world.
Mabel Poblet Pujol b. 1986 The powerful and dynamic mixed media works by Mabel Poblet examine female identity within a strict social order. As the protagonist of many of her pieces, Poblet combines her personal experiences and self-evaluation with broader issues of the meaning of feminine beauty. Her images of women wearing wigs and colorful stockings in enclosed box-like spaces illustrate the disguises women wear to adhere to conventions, the parameters of which Poblet puts into question. These shimmering bold images of women are superimposed with hundreds of small translucent plastic flowers created by female inmates of the Holguín prison, raising the aesthetic value of such objects of kitsch and validating their meaning. The theme of levitation, embodied by female figures in clouds or floating in water, expresses Poblet’s desire to avoid confinement and break boundaries. In addition to such exercises in introspection, Poblet looks outward in her exploration of aspirations and anxieties associated with migration and mobility. Her luminous Travel Diaries are circular works composed of cut-up photographs of places she visits, fragmented memories pieced together to produce a revised world view. Her technical process involves cutting photographs into tiny shards and then reconstructing them to create a completely new vision and dimensionality. As a young artist, who was trained at San Alejandro and Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) and has had extensive exposure to the international art scene, her preoccupation with freedom in all its forms has evolved from a focus on the containment of the body to the dismantling of barriers and formulaic perceptions.
Juan Roberto Diago Durruthy b. 1971 Diago’s deeply moving, spiritual, abstract works made up of geometric pieces of canvas, deeply woven together as well as his texturally raw paintings on wooden planks draw upon the complexities of his Afro-Cuban heritage. His work addresses racism in Cuba from his personal experience, as well as the history of slavery, and criticizes the post-revolutionary attempt to suppress and deny black culture. Diago was raised with the strong Afro-Cuban religious traditions of Santería embraced by his family and community, whose belief systems resonate throughout his oeuvre. Inspired by his grandfather and father, both artists, he attended the San Alejandro Academy, where he began his artistic exploration of racial identity. Diago’s use of basic materials, such as simple cloth and discarded wood and metal, provide his work with a visceral quality that reflects the poor living conditions of many Afro-Cubans. He literally and emblematically exposes his roots with devices, such as braided and knotted cloth that allude to the way slaves tied their hair. While his early work from the 1990’s was angrier and more figurative and colorful, his canvases produced after 2009 are thoughtful, abstract, and monochromatic. These imposing black and white compositions project their potency with simple elegance and subtly embedded messages. Composed of cloth fragments pieced together, the works manifest the history of the African diaspora, blending the past and present, primitive and urbane, traditional and novel.
This guide was created as a partnership between the DiMenna-Nyselius Library and the Fairfield University Art Museum and provides additional resources and information on the artists and themes related to the Fairfield University Art Museum exhibition:
Archives of Consciousness: Six Cuban Artists
Walsh Gallery, Quick Center for the Arts
January 24 – May 15, 2020
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