ZAIDA DEL RÍO: MY WORK IS A RE­FLEC­TION OF WHO I AM

Art On Cuba - - Index - Onedys Calvo

Zaida del Río is one of the Cuban painters of the gen­er­a­tion of the 1970s. From a ru­ral back­ground, her tal­ent en­abled her to con­quer Ha­vana, dur­ing fever­ous times, with new so­cial and cul­tural dy­nam­ics, where all utopias and il­lu­sions seemed pos­si­ble.

From that decade of Cuban arts his­tory, her ten­der, beau­ti­ful and bril­liant face was cap­tured in the work by Flavio Gar­ciandía Todo lo que usted nece­sita es amor (All you need is love) (1973, Na­tional Mu­seum of Fine Arts). About the ori­gin of this piece the artist states: I can say I still love to lie down in the grass, as I did that day by chance. I was in Lenin Park (Par­que Lenin). Dur­ing the 1970s we used to go there a lot; a beau­ti­ful place I still visit, of course. A friend pho­tog­ra­pher took that pic­ture of me, some­one I knew, that is why I had that face, I was wak­ing up. And then, Flavio, who was do­ing hy­per re­al­ism, took the im­age and luck­ily for me painted the beau­ti­ful pic­ture now seen in Fine Arts.

In many senses, Zaida's work is con­nected to the ru­ral in­spi­ra­tion, par­tic­u­larly vi­su­al­ized in the ca­pac­ity to cre­ate leg­ends hid­den in the forests, and in the skill to con­ceive in­ex­pli­ca­ble events lo­cated in beau­ti­ful spots, far re­moved from civ­i­liza­tion, as well as in the touch of de­ter­mi­na­tion and naivety, while her char­ac­ters in­vite the rid­dle. Thus ev­ery­body rec­og­nizes Zaida for her spir­i­tu­al­ity, her re­la­tion­ship with na­ture, for the way both in her life and her work, she tries to es­tab­lish a har­mo­nious re­la­tion­ship with the forces of the uni­verse. She is a gen­uine rep­re­sen­ta­tive of her gen­er­a­tion, char­ac­ter­ized, mainly through paint­ings, by dif­fer­en­ti­ated iconog­ra­phy that rep­re­sented from the for­mal and the the­matic view­points the in­ti­mate mytholo­gies, the painter's fan­tasy, what we call to­day po­etic art.

We con­stantly find in her work a va­ri­ety of char­ac­ters, which a vig­or­ous stroke de­picts be­tween spots and col­ors. The artist ac­knowl­edges: In my work, the lines, the draw­ing, are al­ways pro­tag­o­nists, no mat­ter how much color I use. There­fore, in her paint­ing, a lyric and pe­cu­liar cos­mog­ra­phy has taken her to the re­motest places of the be­ing, of na­ture, of fem­i­nin­ity, of sen­su­al­ity and of habits and ex­otic cul­tures.

Zaida is like­wise an artist from the 1990's, when the in­ter­na­tional art mar­ket brought another sce­nario for our cre­ators, and paint­ing was vin­di­cated, pro­vid­ing her with great suc­cess. She not only ex­hib­ited in Cuba and overseas but her name also was in­dis­pens­able in all col­lec­tive exhibitions or in pub­li­ca­tions about Cuban arts. Un­doubt­edly, it was an in­ter­est­ing mo­ment: I be­lieve I have al­ways had my hall­mark, none­the­less, af­ter the 1990s I worked some other tech­niques, I moved more, and also my per­sonal life shifted. The fact I have this space in Old Ha­vana changed my life, I al­most live here, and I paint ev­ery day. This is a tem­ple, the place of ev­ery­thing sur­round­ing me. When

I am paint­ing I think of noth­ing else. It is a bless­ing to have a place like this.

She tack­les all topics with in­tense pas­sion, tak­ing all pre­texts as if es­sen­tial for the uni­verse. Hence, the ve­he­ment lines, the in­tense color spots, the way she con­trasts them all and the way she in­ter­weaves the shapes. Her last in­ten­tion is to get to know her­self: My work is an ab­so­lute re­flec­tion of who I am, since I paint by in­spi­ra­tion. I do not usu­ally hes­i­tate on what to do, un­less it is about a sculp­ture or a mu­ral. I work, work and work and I al­ways feel like work­ing. I paint ev­ery sin­gle day.

A tran­scen­den­tal point in her ca­reer is her trans­fig­u­ra­tion as the bird woman, a theme that be­came par­tic­u­larly evoca­tive in that self–recog­ni­tion in­ten­tion: For me, all mo­ments are im­por­tant be­cause I fre­quently change the theme; I have been in­spired by seascapes, by the Afro Cuban or the catholic re­li­gions, or by Bud­dhism, or by nu­merol­ogy and aro­mas… but I be­lieve that the mo­ment I cre­ated the bird woman was sig­nif­i­cant, that was not re­ally in­vented by me, be­cause all an­cient cul­tures have an­i­mal–headed icons, but it was im­por­tant, be­cause one way or another it gave me a hall­mark, I am al­ways rec­og­nized by it, and I have taken the theme to sculp­ture and to all pos­si­ble tech­niques. The bird woman had an ex­tended se­ries, and in some oc­ca­sions trans­gressed the two di­men­sional for­mats to see the artist the be­come the sub­ject through per­for­mances. With her trans­muted im­age, her mytho­log­i­cal char­ac­ter, her syn­the­sis of trans­gres­sion, the bal­ance be­tween the rea­son­able and pas­sion, be­tween in­stinct and free­dom; the bonds of con­nec­tion are ir­re­me­di­a­bly strong.

Al­though no longer the pro­tag­o­nist, the zoomor­phic woman con­tin­ues to ap­pear in her works, di­rectly or evoca­tively. The same is the case with the most re­cent se­ries of­fered by the artist and ex­hib­ited last year un­der the ti­tle Pica mi gallo (My Rooster Pecks).

The rooster is a very real crea­ture, vir­tu­ally rou­tine, ap­pear­ing or­di­nary, but with many con­no­ta­tions in the Cuban cul­ture; namely in is­sues re­lated to male chau­vin­ism, viril­ity and author­ity. It has been an an­i­mal ex­ten­sively de­picted in the Cuban plas­tic arts, recre­ated not only in ru­ral sce­nar­ios as a ref­er­ent of Cuban con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion since colo­nial times, es­pe­cially in the avant–garde, but its plumage, its col­ors and po­si­tions made of it a clas­sic theme in Mar­i­ano Ro­dríguez's work, ex­pressed in a thou­sand ways. “Los gal­los de Mar­i­ano” (Mar­i­ano's Roost­ers) are a clas­sic in Cuban arts.

To study the rooster from the per­spec­tive of our times, seems a dar­ing topic. But Zaida's roost­ers are also splen­did, bril­liant in col­ors, loose and grace­ful, pic­to­ri­ally con­sis­tent. Th­ese crea­tures are shown from the tech­ni­cal ma­tu­rity of a pro­lif­er­ous artist who eas­ily dom­i­nates the com­bi­na­tions of lines and col­ors. Zaida's view shows the crea­tures in com­po­si­tions that re­live the mean­ing of the an­i­mal from the Asian per­spec­tive. Ac­cord­ing to the Chi­nese Horo­scope, 2017 was the year of the Fire Rooster: a year of per­se­ver­ance and ef­forts of the early ris­ers with the in­ten­sity of fire. As a re­sult, we find her rep­re­sen­ta­tions with the moon, the sun, with dawn, the bloom­ing, with re­silience, with will­ing­ness and power.

All her work is linked with the mythic phi­los­o­phy, trans­lat­ing all her thoughts in shapes she paints as if she were ex­press­ing them with words. Some­times she writes, she sings… it seems to be she has no fears or lim­its: Those are the side is­sues that ap­pear from time to time, and I take ad­van­tage of them, since I am aware of how ephemeral life is. I have sung and recorded songs, when­ever I have had the chance, but if I am not in the mood, I do not do it. I have pub­lished nine po­etry books and I also avail the op­por­tu­nity when I feel in­spired. Zaida does not pre­sume to be in­tel­lec­tual; she has an unas­sum­ing and pe­cu­liar style in the midst of a pro­lif­er­ous na­tional con­text: I am do­ing fine. And I be­lieve many peo­ple are do­ing rea­son­ably as well. I am not the crit­i­cal type, I be­lieve there are many artists and ev­ery­one in some way is go­ing here and there. See how many Cubans were in the Mi­ami Fair. And the Gal­leries here have also done what they could within their pos­si­bil­i­ties. Cuba is al­ways a ref­er­ence world­wide. There is some mys­tery about this is­land that gen­er­ates so many artists. There are many dif­fer­ent artists, with a lot of imag­i­na­tion.

From the out­stand­ing artists like Zaida, we al­ways ex­pect more, but she is not both­ered by that: I live with­out that bur­den. I am grate­ful for life and for ev­ery­body's ac­knowl­edge­ment. Be­ing an artist is a calling, is an im­petu­ous need to be in another di­men­sion that links imag­i­nary and re­al­ity. That is the way her work ex­ists and flows. Ev­ery­body rec­og­nizes her strength, the co­her­ence be­tween her be­ing and her do­ing; many ad­mire her for be­ing a great fighter, most ad­mire her beau­ti­ful art, and some oth­ers be­lieve she is ec­cen­tric for ar­ro­gantly dress­ing as a Pea­cock. She has es­tab­lished rules, like other rel­e­vant women, but she clar­i­fies:

I do not feel iden­ti­fied with any other par­tic­u­lar woman, but there are other out­stand­ing ones. We are to think of Frida Kahlo, An­to­nia (Ei­riz), or Amelia, of those who have painted de­spite many things. I ar­ranged an ex­hi­bi­tion many years ago in the Fine Arts [Mu­seum] on women who are im­por­tant to me such as Isadora Du­can, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, all of them were artists, mak­ing art in any ter­rain is a gift. Those are women I ad­mire. I love the writ­ing of Fina Gar­cía Mar­ruz, her po­ems tell me things…, Gabriela Mis­tral…, those women in­spired me to read their works and to do re­search on their lives, though I am sure that their work gives a vi­sion of the in­di­vid­u­als, but can­not ex­actly say who they were. This does not mean that the work is independent of them, but peo­ple al­ways have some other sides, other loves, other styles.

We ap­proach ev­ery­thing re­vealed about the artist in her work, but the pos­si­bil­ity to de­code the woman and the work is in­fi­nite. The ten­der­ness, the ex­pec­ta­tion and the cau­tion that per­sist within her, ever since her first im­ages, when she just needed love, are sum­ma­rized in a sweet and tran­quil ex­pres­sion: In­deed, the I have taken a path, and due to the con­tra­dic­tions we hu­man be­ings have I have tried to get to know my­self, be­cause there are dif­fi­cult times. I am ap­proach­ing an age where I don't feel old, but you can find some bal­ance and some bur­den. When you are young you feel in­se­cu­ri­ties, many con­cerns, con­tra­dic­tions, and I started by learn­ing about my­self, by do­ing med­i­ta­tions and work­ing with my­self. I have a very strong na­ture, I am a trans­gres­sor, so, I had to con­trol my­self, oth­er­wise, who else would con­trol me? But I am af­fec­tion­ate; age has not made me feel bit­ter­ness. I feel fresh, lov­ing na­ture. In essence, I have not changed. ƒ

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