Art On Cuba - - Index - Nel­son Her­rera Ysla

In a mod­est house lo­cated in El Cerro neigh­bor­hood in Ha­vana, one can visit a sort of gallery or mini mu­seum spe­cial­ized in the work of non–pro­fes­sional Cuban cre­ators, who have not been trained in the art field and face dys­func­tional and com­plex so­cial psy­cho­log­i­cal sit­u­a­tions, and even men­tal dis­or­ders.

The project goes by the name of Art Brut Project Cuba and it com­prises around 30 thou­sand pieces (mostly paint and draw­ing on pa­per and card­board, but also metal, card­board, fab­ric and wood small and medium for­mat sculp­tures). The pieces be­long to more than 35 Cuban artists and are trea­sured and looked af­ter by artist Sa­muel Riera, who runs this mi­nus­cule cul­tural in­sti­tu­tion since 2012 thanks to his own ef­forts and fund­ing and the help of an as­sis­tant di­rec­tor, two col­lab­o­ra­tors and the sol­i­dar­ity of nu­mer­ous friends in­side and out­side of Cuba.

The ini­tial idea started from re­search­ing and show­ing the art of the “pe­riph­ery”; in other words, those ex­pres­sions far re­moved from the in­sti­tu­tional net­work of the visual arts sys­tem. Un­in­ten­tion­ally, they act as a sort of al­ter­na­tive­ness that val­ues other sides of cre­ation. In the ge­n­e­sis of the project, Riera was in­ter­ested in con­ceiv­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion of the works in the public space, the street, in broad day­light, on light sup­ports that sim­u­lated the con­ven­tional wheel­bar­rows used to sell food prod­ucts. With­out a doubt, some­thing un­com­mon in its pop­u­lar struc­ture and con­tent, ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one… un­til he de­cided to pro­mote the works dif­fer­ently, us­ing part of his house, also as a bet­ter way to pre­serve the works.

In­ter­ested in the def­i­ni­tions of folk art, naïf art, prim­i­tive art, he grav­i­tated more to­wards out­side art since the English term “out­sider” is more open and broad. But with no in­ten­tion of be­ing in­cluded in ei­ther of th­ese de­nom­i­na­tions, we are def­i­nitely talk­ing about a sin­gu­lar type of art pro­duced by sin­gu­lar hu­man be­ings.

Th­ese works and th­ese artists sym­bol­ize the cen­tral pur­pose of the project, which tends to stim­u­late their ca­pac­i­ties “… with­out mod­i­fy­ing or di­rect­ing the cre­ation pro­cesses and vi­su­al­izes them in the na­tional and in­ter­na­tional sphere…” to es­sen­tially achieve that “…the work of the Art Brut Project Cuba be rec­og­nized and in­cluded as an ex­am­ple of gen­uine art…” It's about a dif­fer­ent way of ap­proach­ing art, with other prin­ci­ples and dis­tant from what is of­ten de­scribed as “ther­apy art”, al­though by sup­port­ing the creative process of each of the artists it un­doubt­edly stim­u­lates and helps them face their vul­ner­a­ble so­cial con­di­tion day by day.

In the tight space of his fam­ily home (the project re­quires a lit­tle over 120 square me­ters), Sa­muel has also man­aged to or­ga­nize a tiny work­shop in which two or three of the artists work ev­ery week with ma­te­ri­als provided by him thanks to do­na­tions. The themes in most of the two–di­men­sional works are var­ied, un­prej­u­diced, in which self–ref­er­en­tial and per­sonal per­spec­tives and es­sen­tially fig­u­ra­tive emo­tions stand out, es­pe­cially por­traits, to­gether with small doses of ur­ban land­scapes and a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of an­i­mals as a kind of fan­tas­tic zo­ol­ogy.

For the pro­duc­tion of works on card­board or pa­per they use pens, color pen­cils, acrylic, crayon, mixed tech­niques and col­lage. For ob­jects and sculp­tures (with­out reach­ing the con­cept of in­stal­la­tion as we know it to­day) they re­cy­cle any­thing they find around them, from pieces of tex­tiles and clothes, wood and pieces of metal, some even in­ter­vene parts of their clos­ets and old fur­ni­ture, to frag­ments of the fences in their yards and houses.

The first ex­hi­bi­tion of the project as a col­lec­tive (only seven artists were se­lected) was in 2015 with the ti­tle Ex­pre­siones par­ale­las (Par­al­lel Ex­pres­sions). The se­cond show took place at the be­gin­ning of 2018 in the head­quar­ters of the project; works by 24 artists were pre­sented. Both shows have been in­stru­men­tal in mak­ing the work of th­ese artists vis­i­ble as part of a strat­egy that emerged from the 11th Ha­vana Bi­en­nial, 2012, and was fi­nally re­al­ized as a project the next year.

Al­though the ma­jor­ity of the rep­re­sented artists were born and live in Ha­vana, there are oth­ers from dif­fer­ent prov­inces of the coun­try: Artemisa, Villa Clara, Pi­nar del Rio, Cien­fue­gos, as a re­sult of Sa­muel's re­search and in­for­ma­tion from dif­fer­ent sources. Some have not con­tin­ued their work due to chang­ing per­sonal sit­u­a­tions or be­cause they de­cided to fol­low a dif­fer­ent path. The high­est num­ber of cre­ators that have been part of the project is fifty; cur­rently they are no more than thirty. Some­times the bur­den of their fam­ily sit­u­a­tion mod­i­fies their path, al­ter­ing it or caus­ing them to to­tally aban­don their art­work. Sa­muel is al­ways at­ten­tive to th­ese fluc­tu­a­tions in their pri­vate con­text.

Par­al­lel to his in­tense re­search and pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­ity, Sa­muel Riera keeps his per­sonal work alive since he grad­u­ated from the San Ale­jan­dro Fine Arts Academy in Ha­vana, where he also worked as a pro­fes­sor for 12 years. Since then he has been in­ter­ested in paint­ing and ob­jects; to­day he moves with con­fi­dence in both di­rec­tions: on one hand he cre­ates a se­ries of paint­ings with an ex­pres­sion­ist base to tackle as­pects of con­tem­po­rary so­cial prob­lems. On the other hand, he cre­ates a se­ries of small for­mat ob­jects, like sou­venirs, fo­cused on chil­dren (tak­ing on “model” archetypes from the Cuban re­al­ity) to which he in­cor­po­rates toys and board games built by him and linked to his per­sonal train­ing. Fi­nally, as part of the di­ver­sity of ex­pres­sive styles he uses, he is un­der­tak­ing ab­stract paint­ing at the mo­ment.

He cre­ates in the same work­shop that he shares with the artists that are linked to the project, since he does not have a pri­vate space. This al­lows him to have a per­ma­nent and close con­tact with th­ese cre­ators, thus con­stantly re­viv­ing the project.

As a rara avis in our visual arts con­text, this mod­est in­sti­tu­tion rises in Ha­vana: step by step, per­sis­tently and tena­ciously, as a sim­ple call to broaden our ideas and points of view about aes­thetic cre­ation, specif­i­cally that which does not al­ways shine in the daz­zled space of great gal­leries and mu­se­ums, bi­en­ni­als, fairs or auc­tion houses. ƒ

…with no in­ten­tion of be­ing in­cluded in ei­ther of th­ese de­nom­i­na­tions, we are def­i­nitely talk­ing about a sin­gu­lar type of art pro­duced by sin­gu­lar hu­man be­ings.

DAMIAN VALDÉS DILLA − Un­ti­tled, 2015 / Pen on heavy pa­per / 39 x 27 in From left to right: Sa­muel Riera, May­del Portela, Der­bis Cam­pos, Lázaro An­to­nio Martínez

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