The visual arts have long been one of the strongest parts of Cuba’s amazing cultural output, but it is its contemporary art that became praised internationally as extremely powerful, especially after the emergence of Cuba’s strong generation of young creatives on Latin American art scene in the 1980s. Today, many of the contemporary Cuban artists can be found rostered by some of the world’s premium museums and art galleries, and now that Cuba and its greatest adversary, the United States, have opened a new chapter in their relations, we think that Cuban art might just be the next big thing in the art world. The following list should be taken as a cross section of what we feel is the best in Cuban contemporary art today. It is by no means exhaustive, and as you will see, there is little to cohere the artists featured on the list, apart from their shared nationality.
Editors’ Tip: Cuba: Art and History from 1868 to Today
Cuban contemporary art is very rich. Unfortunately, due to political and societal reasons, sometimes it is marginalized on contemporary art scene. In this article, we present you 10 Cuban contemporary artists you should really know. Maybe their names are not familiar with you, but their art and their practice leave many spectators speechless. If you want to know more about Cuban artist, or Cuban art in general, we recommend you a book entitled Cuba: Art and History from 1868 to Today. This sumptuous survey of Cuban art reveals the development of a distinct national identity and serves as an illustrated narrative of the country s colorful past and present. Cuba’s artistic tradition is as rich as its history, though its treasures are rarely appreciated outside of the country.
Armando Mariño is a renowned painter, sculptor and installation artist, and one of the most popular Cuban contemporary artists. Born in Santiago de Cuba, living and working in the US, Mariño received his art education at the Pedagogical Institute of Arts from Havana, and the prestigious Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten from Amsterdam. He is widely praised for his mesmerizing works that offer unique and sarcastic approach to art as a space of power and exclusion, and reveals Mariño’s own take on the use of parody and pastiche in art. Known for tackling worrying issues of gender, race, sex, human trafficking and freedom, Mariño’s most recent work is focused on the representation and the visual consumption of violence and how it has been increasingly normalized in today’s world. Mariño has been exhibiting across the world since 1990, mostly in Europe, USA, Africa and his homeland, while his works are represented in major private and public collections.
Yoan Capote is a Cuban sculptor of great talent, and one of his country’s most promising contemporary artists. Capote, who lives and works in Havana, received his education at the Superior Institute of Art where he specialized in painting, but later turned primarily to sculpture, still remaining highly active in a wide variety of different media including painting, photography and installation art. His non-conformist and often provocative pieces, that often rearrange human bodies and merge them with inanimate, everyday objects, reinvent their purpose while dealing with interactions between viewers and Capote’s own psychological experiences. Since his first group show in Havana back in 2000, Yoan Capote has been steadily gaining worldwide attention with some major gallery appearances in recent years. There is no doubt that Capote and his awesome talents deserve your attention, and we are certain we will be seeing more of his extraordinary works in the near future.
Carlos Estévez is one of the most prominent Cuban artists of his generation, and no, we are not talking about the infamous American actor of Spanish decent who goes by the name of Charlie Sheen. Carlos Estévez we are talking about is one of the most respected and well educated Cuban contemporary artists. Painter, sculptor and photographer, Estévez has been active for well over twenty years and has been exhibiting his artworks internationally, including cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Paris and Tokyo. Estévez works with a wide array of mediums, through which he embodies various philosophical and artistic concepts that explore the relationship between man and the universe, and often reflect Cuban social and political realities. His most recognizable paintings and drawings often feature Estévez’s trademark marionette puppets he creates using star-like dots connected with lines, that create the mesmerizing effects of star constellations.
Los Carpinteros (The Carpenters) is a critically acclaimed Cuban art collective from Havana which is responsible for some of the most important work created in Cuba in the 21st century. The collective was initially formed in 1991 as a trio, consisting of multi-talented artists Marco Castillo, Dagoberto Rodríguez, and, until 2003, Alexandre Arrechea. Los Carpinteros are widely praised for their astonishing installation art that merges together various elements of architecture, design, and sculpture in unexpected, often humorous, but always captivating ways. Their elegant and carefully crafted installations, sculptures and mock technical drawings, draw inspiration from furniture and design, cleverly negotiating the space between the practical and the useless, with the intelligent use of humor which emphasizes contradictions between different objects. Los Carpinteros have been increasingly popular during the last decade, and they have exhibited their amusing artworks in Cuba, and across Europe and North America.
Roberto Fabelo is a widely known Cuban painter, illustrator and sculptor, and one of the most respected premier contemporary artists from Cuba. He is perhaps best known for his captivating artworks that depict nude women with bird-like features, such as beaks and wings. However, Fabelo’s most recent, and even more impressive body of work, consists mostly of drawings, watercolor art, oils, and installations that show artist’s peculiar interest in human condition. Often featuring distorted human and animal figures incorporated into portraits and fantastic scenery, these magical pieces explore the human psyche, and its persistent struggle between good and evil. Fabelo has been awarded with numerous awards, both national and international, and his remarkable pieces of art have been shown in more than 40 solo, and over 500 group shows, all around the world, including countries such as Switzerland, Japan, the United States, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil.
Alicia Leal is one of the most important and highly influential Cuban artists, a graduate of the San Alejandro School of Fine Arts, the oldest art school in Cuba, who quickly came to prominence as a member of a young generation of Cuban artists in the 1980’s. Leal works from studio-gallery she shares with her husband, renowned painter Juan Moreira, which is located in El Vedado, central business district and urban neighborhood in Havana, but her mesmerizing murals and public installations can be found all around the city. Her works of flat perspectives, intricate scenes and narrative structures are centered around woman and her role in providing refuge, and they have a certain freshness to them which is reminiscent of folk art. Intensely subjective and symbolic, these extraordinary pieces explore the subconscious and dreams, successfully establishing an instant magnetic relationship with their viewers.
Glenda León is an acclaimed Cuban practitioner of conceptual art, graduate of the Academy of Superior Art and New Medias in Cologne, Germany, who lives and works between Havana and Mardid. León started her Visual Art studies at the age of 12 and started showing at a professional level as early as 1999. Today she is an artist of international renown, best known for her exceptional body of work which spans from drawing to video art, including installation, sculpture, and photography. Her extraordinary pieces, which very often incorporate natural and artificial flowers, texts, sounds and materials like hair and chewing gum, appeared extremely new for the Cuban art context from the very beginning of her artistic career, and it is fair to say León is one of those artists that pushed the boundaries of contemporary art in her homeland, especially with her particular ability to cast sound in what is primarily a visual medium.
Tomás Sánchez is a renowned Cuban artist, and one of the most influential and widely celebrated Cuban painters. Perhaps best recognized for his extraordinarily detailed landscape paintings and depictions of majestic landfills, Sánchez is also a very prolific and multi-faceted visual artist who has made respectable incursions into painting, engraving, sculpture and photography. Sánchez’s breathtaking landscapes of lush vegetation are pristine displays of the magnificence of a lyrical universe, usually devoid of human presence, what gives them a certain meditative and almost otherworldly quality. Sánchez has participated in numerous individual and collective exhebitions in over 30 countries all across the globe, including Mexico, the United States, Japan, Italy and France. The artist lives and works between Miami and Costa Rica.
Tania Bruguera is the (in)famous installation and performance artist from Cuba, whose groundbreaking work is focused on the issues of power and control. Bruguera’s most famous performance piece is her 1998 work titled The Burden of Guilt (El peso de la culpa), artist’s harrowing take on a true story when indigenous Cuban people vowed to eat nothing but dirt, rather than be the captives of the Spanish conquistadors. In this extraordinary and extremely engaging performance, Bruguera stood naked for 45 minutes, as she consumed tears (soil mixed with water and salt), while a butchered lamb hanged from her neck, creating both a physical and symbolic burden. Apart from being a highly influential artist, Tania Bruguera is also an art teacher and a founder and director of Arte de Conducta (behavior art), the first performance studies program in Latin America, which is hosted by the renowned Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana.
Carlos Garaicoa is one of the internationally best known and most influential Cuban artists, whose work has achieved cult status in his homeland. Garaicoa first studied thermodynamics, but eventually turned to art when he enrolled, and later graduated at the renowned Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana. His truly extraordinary body of work, exceptional by any means, is built on the themes of architecture, ruins, and social utopia. From the very beginnings of his highly productive artistic career, Garaicoa has been employing various medias, including photography, performance, drawing, sculpture, installation, text, and video, all in order to comment on architecture and its effects on cities and their political, economic, and cultural realities. From his initial subject, his hometown, Garaicoa has successfully moved on to examine such influences on New York; Cuito Cuanavale, Valencia, Minneapolis and Venice. Garaicoa lives and works between Havana and Madrid.