ART BRUT PROJECT CUBA IN HAVANA
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.
…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