Six Cuban artists you should know

  havana-live--six-cuban-artists-humberto-diaz-reynier-leyva-novo-alex-hernandez-duenas-ariamna-contino-mendozaHAVANA, June 5   (Devoid of art supplies, Internet, and a connection to the international art market, contemporary Cuban artists have been making some of the most innovative work the world has yet to see.
As the coils of the embargo begin to loosen, an emerging force of pioneers are debuting their work to American audiences: painting, sculpting, and crafting work, most of it politically charged, all of it distinctively Cuban.

With the Havana Biennial, running through June 22, and a major exchange of works between the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the National Museum of Fine Arts in Cuba making waves on the Malecón, here are six Cuban artists you need to know.havana-live- -artists-novo

Behind a man bun, laid-back attitude, and youthful flair, Reynier Leyva Novo is a leading Cuban conceptual artist, whose work is deeply rooted in the weight of history and politics—literally.
For an installation in the Biennial, The Weight of History, Novo calculated the amount of ink used in five creeds of totalitarian regimes, written by Hitler, Lenin, Mao, Gaddafi, and Fidel Castro, using software he developed. He then transcribed the same weight of paint into corresponding squares onto the curved, stone walls of a 16th century fortress.

The towering black squares evoke a somber profundity. During a studio visit, the artist exhibited smaller works on paper reacting to Communist iconography. Novo’s work is stripped down to its essence, reminding us that the basis of ideologies can be just as abstract as his art.havana-live-carlos-garaicoa

A luminary artist, Garaicoa is well established on the Cuban art scene and a sought-after star of international art fairs. Since the early 1990s, the Havana native has used sculpture, photography, performance, and video to comment on social and political issues ingrained in urban planning, specifically on policies following the 1959 Cuban revolution.

His exquisite architectural models, intricate pop-up books, and masterfully delicate pins-and-needles work illuminate the neglected edifices that punctuate a city frustrated by stalled political and social progress. Garaicoa’s contributions extend to his artist-in-residence initiative, ARTIST X ARTIST, which champions a younger generation of emergent Cuban artists in the global art scene.  havana-live-artists-duenas-mendoza

Collaborating on work for the Biennial and a show at Havana’s prestigious art gallery, Galería Habana, the young couple, in their early 30s, fuse their artistic skill with a social and political awareness.
For The Path of Eden, in the Biennial, Contino has created expansive, dazzlingly beautiful landscapes of delicately hand-cut paper to represent the major drug corridors in Latin America. The layers of meticulously cut, cocaine-white paper represent the complexity of the drug industry, with Cuba as a natural corridor.

On smaller cut-outs by Contino, Dueñas has printed abstract and colorful images, which evoke line graphs and statistical data charting the drug markets and resulting deaths. The artists are beginning to exhibit on a small scale in the U.S., and Contino will be part of a group show at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York this fall. Keep an eye out for this dynamic duo. havana-live-artists-campins

Campins, the lithe, serene, and cerebral painter, is a calming presence in the Havana heat, devoid of ego despite being one of the pre-eminent artists working in Cuba today. His canvases, both small- and large-scale, demonstrate a masterful command of landscape painting, boldly establishing a richly distinctive style.

Catalogues in his studio suggest his artistic influences, from Caspar David Friedrich to Anselm Kiefer and Mark Rothko, but his dream-like, enveloping, textured surfaces are all his own. The recipient of numerous awards, Campins continues to revitalize Cuban art and make a name for himself in the international art world. havana-live-artists-diaz

Díaz, of modest size but not stature, wears his heart and ambition on his sleeve, renowned for his site-specific installations and performance art. The prolific, multi-disciplinary artist impresses with his epic, labyrinthine installations in public places, interactive performance art, and inventive sculpture.

In a 2011 performance piece, Diaz stood in front of a clock and watched it for five hours, which he called “pretty boring.” Currently in his studio, he displays a retro, operating refrigerator stuffed full with Hollywood cigarettes, and a photograph he took of a street grate in Rome, each nook filled with a discarded cigarette butt. The piece, made up of 22 different panels, is called DNA. Díaz is currently exhibiting at the Bronx Museum, as part of an artist exchange, through August 16.