Cuba is culture: Homeland and life in Luis Aragon’s ceramics

Hundreds of craftsmen across our archipelago successfully cultivate artistic ceramics, endeavor in which several cities stand out, among them Matanzas, Trinidad, Camagüey, Havana and Santiago de Cuba. Luis Aragon Tellez is from the latter, but he’s little known nationwide in spite of the unquestionable strength and quality of his works, in which he approaches the most varied topics through a formal diversity, without denying the very nature of the material. Among his iconographies there stand out the tree-dimensional ones of different formats, many of them recreated in renowned personalities of history and culture.

In his small workshop located in the basement of one of the 18-storey buildings in central Garzon Avenue, in the Hero City, this restless and dreamy artist handles clay with amazing creative skill, in a sort of mystic sharing from which a diversity of projects emerge, as much of utilitarian nature as artistic, or the combination of both, in order to create exciting aesthetic experiences in the spectators that allow them to enjoy the striking ennoblement of clay in his hands.

He graduated as mid-level craft technician at “Pepito Tey” Polytechnic School, in Santiago de Cuba (2001) and many of his sculptural pieces have been placed in different squares and institutions of that eastern city, where there stand out those recreated on the Maceo Grajales family, like the bust of Mariana located in Maceo’s Seat of Honor in the Social House of Mothers of the Martyrs; as well as the piece entitled “Las Marianas de estos tiempos” (The Marianas of These Times), placed at the Center for Antonio Maceo Grajales Studies, which gave him a recognition for having contributed with his work to preserve the historical memory of the emblematic mambi (patriotic) family.

Several busts inspired by the National Hero of Cuba, Jose Marti, as well as other artistic ceramic productions related to Santiago de Cuba’s culture, education, public health and society, also enrich the curriculum of this maker, who started as a potter turner in 2003 at Caguayo Foundation. Then, he joined the Cuban Association of Craft Artists (ACAA) in 2009, after participating in numerous individual and group exhibitions.

The soundness of his craft and sculptural endeavor has allowed him to be in great demand to decorate several places in Santiago, such as Bohio de La Trova (Trova Hut), Cabildo Teatral (Town Hall Theater), la Unidad Presupuestada de Apoyo a la Actividad Cultural (the Budgeted Unit to Support Cultural Activities), “America Domitro” Library, “Felix Varela Morales” Junior High School, Casa de la Cultura “Miguel Matamoros” (Miguel Matamoros Culture House), where unconceivably his impressive bust inspired by Jose Marti, erected there, was replaced by an ordinary and poor figure of the Apostle made of plaster.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Luis acted as plastic arts instructor at the Municipal Directorate in Santiago de Cuba and has collaborated for several years with literary project “Vuelos de mujer” (Woman’s Wings), whose annual awards consist of a piece donated by this maker, who is a recurrent guest at Fire Art biennales, convened by ACAA’s branch in Matanzas.

Entrepreneurial and simple man, he works with clay as if it were a game in which he exercises his craft skills to turn it into an art that, as stated Alejandro G. Alonso —director of the National Museum of Artistic Ceramics for many years until his death—, “It is not decorative art, or applied art, or craft only”. It’s much more.

It’s worth recalling that artistic ceramics began in Cuba in the late 1940s, under the auspices of Dr. Juan Miguel Rodríguez de la Cruz, a respectable physician who had a workshop for those aims in the capital’s outlying neighborhood of Santiago de las Vegas, where such renowned artists as Wifredo Lam, Amelia Pelaez, Mariano Rodríguez and Rene Portocarrero, among others, participated with him in the decoration of utilitarian objects. That place shaped this art expression that has spread across the archipelago and that still needs a better recognition within the visual arts of the island more than 70 years later.

Translated by Jorge Mesa Benjamin / CubaSi Translation Staff

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The Biennial that Comes

On April 12th begins the greatest visual arts appointment in Cuba, the great platform for artists and projects from several countries, the chance that thousands of Cubans and visitors review the different creative tendencies: until May 12th will take place the XIII Biennial of Havana.

There are several debates at hand (and some are very heated up) on the Biennial of Havana: the suitability of its name (keeping in mind that is no longer occurring every two years); its structure and main idea (to what extent does the dispersion of centers affect the conceptual coherence of the appointment?); its relationship with the market (as in Cuba there isn’t a large art fair, many see the Biennial as an opportunity to make business)…

In what almost everybody seems to agree is in the need that the Biennial must be reinvented. Obviously, the circumstances of the key moment aren’t by far the ones now. How to organize such demanding meeting that dialogue with the present without betraying the lifelong essences? That is the million dollar question… and there are a lot of people trying to answer it.

But among discussions, the thirteenth edition of the greatest summoning of the visual arts in Cuba - and probably of the Caribbean - is just around the corner. And the challenge declared of organizers is to make the best Biennial possible in a particularly complicated context, of strong tensions in the national and international panorama.

It’s clear that the event cannot settled with just being a showcase: it has to assume an active role before society that welcomes it and promotes it. Art, as it’s known, it can and should move ideas that many times go beyond its own boundaries.

THE YOUTH AT THE CENTER

It’s not casual that for this Biennial young artists have a clear protagonism: many of the collective projects bring together creators under 35 years old that will open the thematic, stylistic and conceptual spectrum in consonance with the challenges of the time.

It may seem risky to bet for works that have not probably reached their full definition yet; but the budgets of the Biennial have always guaranteed spaces for experimentation and laboratory. Anyway, the encounter also promotes an open debate on the strength and the opportunity of the event.

The aim is that the theoretical complement (sessions with the presence of outstanding art critics, researchers, and historians, Cubans and foreigners) don’t gloat in the ethereal and general visions, but rather touch very specific topics and that offer alternative or illuminate possible roads for the analysis of the creative processes and its results.

This edition’s slogan is, "The construction of the possible", has raised mistrust in some creators (art should actually bet precisely to build the impossible, they say); but organizers want to highlight in the very act of "building"; that is, art as an integrating project, but never definitive that comes true and that impacts on the daily lives of citizens.

And that is one of the features of the Biennial of Havana: it goes beyond the conventional spaces for the exhibition (museums and galleries) and tries to win footholds on the society.

ART FOR THOSE ART FOLLOWERS

No wonder the most popular and commented proposals from previous events were those put on People’s path (mainly people who doesn't usually attend exhibitions) expressions of contemporary art.

This year will return to the famous Malecon Avenue the project "Behind the Wall" that will comprise about 6 kilometers with the proposals of Cuban and foreigners artists. The creations, most of them will stimulate the interaction with passersby.

The Biennial is included in the program for the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of Havana’s foundation and as a special homage to the city will propose in Línea Street a “Cultural Corridor” that will outline the relative reformation of public spaces - sidewalks, streets, signs, groves and theaters, bookstores, cafes and restaurants - to establish a sort of open-sky gallery.

The characteristics of that initiative will soon be disclosed.

The vanguard of creation in the country will have presence in the main headquarters of the Biennial. The curatorial list, for example, includes nine National Awards for Plastic Arts in Cuba: Manuel Mendive, Roberto Fabelo, René Francisco Rodríguez, José Manuel Fors, José Villa Soberón, Pedro de Oraá, Pedro Pablo Oliva, Eduardo Ponjuán and José A. Toirac…

But the list of participant artists includes 300 artists, individual and collective projects from 52 countries.

Those who doubt the level of summoning of the Biennial should keep in mind these data.

The main headquarters - if we mean cultural centers -, will be the Center of Contemporary Art Wifredo Lam, the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Great Theater of Havana Alicia Alonso, the University of Arts (ISA), the Chullima Workshop, the Gallery Factoria Havana, the Center for Development of Visual Arts…

There will be side exhibitions at The National Academy of Fine Arts San Alejandro, Casa de las Americas, the Experimental Graphic and Serigraph Printing Workshops René Portocarrero… and also, the exhibition circuit will be enlarged with interventions at squares and streets, and at the workshops of several artists.

Plenty of art all over the city. And beyond, because for the first time events within the Biennial will arrive to four domestic provinces: Matanzas, Pinar del Rio, Cienfuegos, and Camagüey.

The organizers of the event insist that the XIII Biennial will showcase the thoughts and evolution of contemporary artistry, presented from the interaction among creators, curators, experts and institutions. It’s about, somehow, promoting the sustainable development of the entire society, without neglecting the purposeful character of the art work…

Anyways, the question is to convince people about the need of art that should never be assumed as a luxury or a whim.

Man doesn’t live by bread alone.

2017 Cuba: looks from art

Visual Arts also constitute the portrait of a country, they let us see its sensitivity and appreciate its spiritualities, that’s why, here you can enjoy our tour through the most outstanding moments of Cuban plastic arts in 2017.

Tens of important exhibitions were shown during this period, among them, those by several National Plastic Arts laureates: Pedro Pablo Oliva at the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, Manuel Mendive at the provincial gallery of Mayabeque, which also hosted Nelson Domínguez and Pedro de Oraá at Collage Habana in the Cuban capital.

The Grand Theater of Havana opened its spaces on November for DE LA IDEA A LA FORMA (FROM IDEA TO FORM), a group exhibition on Cuban sculpture in tribute to the 32nd anniversary of CODEMA and the 105th birth anniversary of Rita Longa. Closing the month, the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center housed ALEGRETO CANTABILE, personal exhibition in homage to the 90th birth anniversary of Raúl Martínez. And to bid farewell to the old year, Cuba’s 2016 National Plastic Arts laureate José Manuel Fors inaugurated PALIMPSESTO at the National Museum of Fine Arts (MNBA Spanish acronym).

Among the exhibitions of greater importance in 2017 highlights went to CUBA EN PELOTA (CUBA IN BASEBALL), with works by Reynerio Tamayo, throughout March at Havana Gallery. SE HACE CAMINO AL ANDAR (YOU MAKE THE PATH AS YOU WALK), group exhibition from the collection of the National Council for Plastic Arts, between August and September at the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater of Havana.

Sin Máscaras (Without Masks), great group exhibition that brought together works from Afro-Cuban art at Fine Arts in July. LA GRAN ESPIRAL (THE BIG SPIRAL) in remembrance of the famous “Salón de Mayo”, from October and at the National Museum of Fine Arts too.

The 80 years of two of the greatest Cuban creators were celebrated with two personal exhibits: Eduardo Muñoz Bach, on April 12th; and René de la Nuez, on September 8th.

Among the exhibitions by important foreign artists this year there stand out PINHOLES, by Norwegian photographer Morten Loberg, in February, at the Fototeca de Cuba. British sculptor Tony Cragg exhibited in April at the National Museum of Fine Arts. French designer and photographer Maurice Renoma in June, at Havana Gallery. For his part, German Albert Oehlen inaugurated his exhibit at the National Museum of Fine Arts in July; meanwhile, US Ben Jones inaugurated his at the end of that month in the same place.

One of the luxury collections that this important museum put at the public’s disposal this year was the one by Russian-born American Boris Lurie, opened since late September.

Plastic Arts creators paid homage to leaders of the Cuban Revolution. In October, Alba House showed TRIBUTO (TRIBUTE), exhibition dedicated to Che on the 50th anniversary of his murder in Bolivia, with the work by important artists; while photographer Alex Castro, exhibited FIDEL. RETRATO ÍNTIMO (FIDEL. INTIMATE PORTRAIT), in homage to the historical leader of the Revolution Fidel Castro, in Santiago de Cuba, on occasion of the first anniversary of his physical disappearance.

Important collective spaces of Cuba and the world exhibited our art too: fourteen Cuban artists participated in the famous Venice Art Biennale. The Visual Arts Development Center hosted the 7th Salon of Contemporary Cuban Art and the Fototeca de Cuba and other spaces housed Noviembre Fotográfico.

Several provinces held plastic arts salons, which gathered the creation by artists from dissimilar generations.

And closing this 2017, painter and engraver Eduardo Roca, alias Choco, received the National Plastic Arts Award for his valuable contribution to visual arts development in Cuba.

Translated by Jorge Mesa Benjamin / Cubasi Translation Staff

 

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Harold López: “My characters are sitting on a dormant volcano”

Next Thursday, the Cuban painter will inaugurate an exhibition at Villa Manuela Gallery, in which he reflects on insularity. I interviewed him.

A long time ago, Harold López stopped to be a “young artist”, a “promise”, terms many times used, with the best intentions, to boost the career of those who begin in the world of arts.

His work convinced both specialists and laypeople by the uniqueness of his style, which was reflected on a figuration of strong emphasis on color, and by the social interest of the subject. His pieces seem fragments of the great chronicle of our daily life.

Next Thursday, at 6:00 pm, the painter will inaugurate an exhibition at Villa Manuela Gallery, national headquarters of the UNEAC (Union of Cuban Writers and Artists), located on H Street between 17th and 19th Streets. “Stand By” speaks about waiting, the circumstances of an island… from the commitment of an author, who is not a simple spectator of the panorama he recreates.

http://test.cubasi.cu/harold-01.jpgEnduring. Mixed technics on canvas 150x200 cm.

—There are sitting characters, waiting characters, characters in starting position, resting characters, characters looking at the horizon in these works… To what extent could this exhibit be an essay of inactivity or expectation?

—In every sense. This exhibition is an essay of the inactivity, the wait, the frustration and the risk this attitude among youngsters entails. It’s a kind of warning. A huge danger lies beneath the seeming tranquility in which the characters of these paintings live; they are all sitting on a kind of dormant volcano.

—In fact, that figuration builds bridges to a perfectly recognizable context. How far does the documentary vocation of the series go? Where does pure fabulation begin?

—I am an artist who fabulates little. I cannot paint something I haven’t seen before. In this point, I can tell you that the whole series has a documentary vocation, except that a painting is a kind of snapshot where the painter must synthesize a certain scene with the greatest possible efficiency; so I figure out that fabulation begins when I make the composition of these scenes, where each element must be very justified, I mean: objects, colors, textures, characters, attitudes....

http://test.cubasi.cu/harold-02.jpgTrying to take off. Oil on canvas 200x200 cm.

—At least thematically, the exhibit seems to mean a new period in your career. How do you dialogue with the rest of the work? What would be the newest thing (stylistic and conceptually) in this new approach?

—My previous series was entitled “Fragmented Discourse”. They were very urban scenes captured from Havana’s streets, where passengers-by (solitary or in groups) walked ahead fragments from those murals of patriotic reaffirmation that are pretty common in all cities of our country.

“It was a series full of motion that I exhibited in two parts because of its extension; the first during the 12th Biennale of Havana (2015), and the second, last year at Artis 718 Gallery. This new series joins “Fragmented Discourse” conceptually, because it basically refers to a conflict between our youths and their attitude towards the historical moment they have gone through”.

“Stand By is a series full of passiveness. This time visuality is fully different from all my previous work. The scenes are brighter, flooded with a beach light. For the first time, I distance from my interiors and streets and move my characters up to the limit that our shores mark”.

“But conceptually, it does not mean a break with my previous work at all, except that now there are more autobiographical elements, that’s the greatest novelty”.

http://test.cubasi.cu/harold-03.jpgQuicksands. Oil on canvas 150x150 cm.

—And what obsessions do you share with the characters of those works?

—I’m an artist who is nourished by reality. That’s the source where my ideas come from: what I see on the streets or hear from people when they talk. Then, it is followed by a maturing process where I try to turn all this into a proper image, because I am not interested in reproducing the reality that surrounds me as it is.

“The obsessions of my characters somehow are always my obsessions. Until now I had dedicated all my work to talk about others, because people and their problems mesmerize me; I think that for the first time in my career I talk about myself. It’s just now that I have been able to turn personal conflicts into images. I think that was the biggest challenge”.

altAnother day without news (part of a diptych). Mixed technics on canvas 150x150 cm.

Translated by Jorge Mesa Benjamin / Cubasi Translation Staff

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Cuban Colonial City Celebrates 503 Years of Visual Arts

Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, Jun 2 (Prensa Latina) The 20th Hall of the City is exhibiting today the work of about 20 artists from Sancti Spiritus on the former Villa del Espiritu Santo, which is celebrating its 503rd anniversary on June 4th.

For two decades, this event has invited local artists to reflect Sancti Spiritus with several techniques and materials, always coinciding with the anniversary celebrations of the city, founded on June 4th, 1514 by Diego Velazquez.

The jury of the 20th Hall reviewed nearly 39 works in competition, where 'Senda al Espiritu', a photograph by Samuel Reina, was the winner, and the works by Nelson Wenselao and Aurelia Beltran received a mention.

The winner of the contest told Prensa Latina that his work faces the challenge of suggesting the Greater Parish Church, one of the most emblematic buildings of the city, taking advantage of the night.

This is a night landscape of Sancti Spiritus framed in the space of that 17th-century building and its surrounding areas creating a kind of visual line with the light that leads to the silhouette of the bell tower, he said.

The jury recognized the winning work during the opening ceremony of the event, held yesterday at the headquarters of the Office of Monuments of the fourth Cuban village.

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Cuba and Belgium to Expand Artistic Links

Brussels.- Managers of the Center for the Development of Visual Arts of Cuba, and the Flanders Arts Institute, conducted dialogues about strengthening relations in the field of the arts.

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Havana Biennial to change date

The Havana Biennial, that has taken place in Havana, Cuba since 1984, has a high prestige at international level. It has become square for the debate about of the courses of contemporary art in its plural expressions and in the last edition, it opened even more its spectrum joining arts and sciences in an appropriate conjugation of knowledge.    

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