Artists’ studios – pt. 1

Thursday, November 7, 2013 – Eduardo Hernández Santos, Ariamna Contino, Adislen Reyes and Anyelmaidelin Calzadilla

Today we visited two very different artist studios.

Eduardo Hernández Santos’ studio is in his home.  He lives with his elderly mother  in one of the oldest sections of Havana.  This was our first venture into the tight winding streets of the old city.  Roberto called the neighborhood marginal and explained that this neighborhood is where the prostitutes and street urchins gather and where crime is higher than other parts of the city. Tightly packed crumbling buildings with iron balconies, laundry hanging from the windows, street carts selling food, the streets teeming with people.    Eduardo’s photographs depict the marginal populations of Havana – transgendered people, sex workers.  It’s apparent where his inspiration comes from.

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Eduardo’s place looked decrepit from the outside, but was gorgeous inside.  He opened the door by pulling on a rope that led from the upstairs down the stair rail to the front door and we climbed the stairs to his tiny, crowded apartment filled oversized antique furniture, tons of books, flower arrangements, teapots and all of his art.  The ceilings were at least 15 feet high, but the floor space cramped, and yet such beauty and richness inside.  The apartment consisted of four rooms that all serve multiple purposes, living, working, sleeping, eating.  His bedroom becomes his studio, or his darkroom as needed.  It’s piled high with books and boxes of teaching materials.   His mother had prepared a fantastic lunch for us – typical Cuban.  Pork and white rice, yucca and fried plantains, black beans and salad.  For dessert prepared mango and cheese – and of course the coffee, strong and sweet. It obviously took a great deal of effort and money to prepare, and we savored each bite and a delicious bottle of wine. The conversation was wonderful as well.  Eduardo told us about the history of his neighborhood, the changing popluations.  He is so knowledgable about history, architecture, culture.

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After a completely wonderful meal Eduardo showed us his latest series of ink drawings and wept with emotion as he shared them.  He is a true romantic, a throw back to an earlier time.  He seems lost in this fast moving contemporary world.  His drawings were amazing.  Distorted figures struggling to stretch out in the confines of their pages.  Some of the work was more personal, surreal figures, twisted, grotesque, in states of transformation.  Some was overtly political with references to living under the oppression of the current Cuban state and all of its paradoxes and challenges.  I was so moved by his work, and the sincerity of his purpose.  I gave him an etching and he gave me a drawing.  And we talked about getting him to come back to Zea Mays Printmaking with Roberto.  He spoke of his love of Northampton – the architecture and the antiques.

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We left Eduardo’s and Carlos (the driver) took us to the “gallery” of Anyelmaidelin Calzadilla Fernández (Anyel) , Adislen Reyes and Ariama Contino  – three women artists who rent an apartment that they use as a gallery called Female Art Studio.  It was the most modern, stripped down space we have seen yet.  Their work was outstanding.  They are all working in conceptually rich, aesthetically beautiful ways.  They each took turns talking about their work, with Roberto translating.

Ariamna is working in paper cuts – white on white, layered images of pop culture figures and another series of weaponry used in mass shootings.  The delicate white paper stands in bold contrast to the subject matter.

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Adislen’s work uses children’s bracelets and other kitschy, girly artifacts for pattern making.  These abstract canvases appear decorative, but have a deeper meaning because of the materials.  The most powerful pieces of hers were her paintings of anime like little girl figures, peeing or menstruating.   She shared a wonderful artist’s book – all about menstruation.

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Anyel’s work is also fascinating – we looked at a series of prints about the internet and contemporary media in Cuba – She uses the iconography of technology to address the challenges of contemporary Cuban life.  It must be so frustrating to be so close to all of the technology of the 1st world, but to have it be so out of reach.  Anyel also showed us a series of small silkscreen prints based on tourist postcards of Cuba.  She strips the images of essential elements as a way of commenting on scarcity and reality vs. the image projected to the tourists.

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They all spoke so eloquently about their work and their motivation.  We talked a little about feminist art and being women artists.  It’s such a gift to be this connected to the artists, to the heart of the country.  I was able to share images of my work with them as well, and gift them each an etching.

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