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