Vida, Amor, y Familia

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Finding the Universal in Cuban Artists Dairan Fernandez De La Fuente and Harold López Muñoz

by Rebecca M. Alvin

Spanish artist Pablo Picasso said, “the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” He wasn’t talking about his own art or European art. He wasn’t only speaking of the daily lives of those around him. His statement reflects the universality of art’s purpose. Art wakes us up in a variety of ways, but it does so whether we’re in Provincetown or Spain or China or Cuba.

Beso (oil on canvas, 15.75 x 15.75”),
2020 by Harold López Muñoz

In Provincetown, La Galeria Cubana is a space for presenting work by Cuban artists, many of whom have never stepped inside this gallery because of the difficulties of obtaining visas to travel to the U.S. But the current exhibition, Camino sinuoso (Winding path) will be marked by two special events at which two of the three artists featured will actually attend. While Darwin Estacio Martinez is unable to come, Dairan Fernandez De La Fuente and Harold López Muñoz will both be at the artist reception on July 15 and speaking at the artist talk the next morning on July 16.

There is a specificity to the life of an artist in Cuba, however—one marked by the cultural experience of isolation for six decades due to political division and embargoes from much of the world. And yet art is universal and there is always a desire for connection between artists and their public.

“As Cuban artists, we have a lot of pressure on us because they expect us to talk about politics all the time in our works, but there is much more than that over there, and the art that is made is as varied as our problems,” says López. “I am a witness there, not a judge, and my role is to leave a testimony. Cuba is a unique and complex country that sometimes is simplified by ignorance and lack of culture.”

Indeed, the images in López’s body of work are not specifically Cuban and they don’t directly comment upon politics. These are depictions of very human moments: friends laughing together, a man deep in thought, lovers caught in a kiss. His approach is reminiscent of Edvard Munch, who he agrees has been an influence. That same sense of kinetic energy and the expressionistic use of color are hallmarks of López’s work, although they also exhibit a contemporary sensibility, influenced in part by López’s interest in advertising as a key visual language of today.

Compañía Catalana (woodcut print, 33.5 x 25.5”), 2021 by Dairan Fernandez De La Fuente

“During my first stage as an artist I used images taken from advertising because they provoked a ‘déjà vu effect’; the viewer imagined having seen it before but never remembered exactly where. In that way I was manipulating an image that had been created to manipulate,” he explains. More recently, he says, he’s moved away from that, though. “I had a more postmodern way of thinking at that time and few experiences. Now I construct my own images, taken from my life because I have lived more and I have more things to tell than in that first stage,” he explains.

De La Fuente’s work also has that kinetic quality, but while López evokes motion with his brush strokes and compositional perspective, De La Fuente’s work achieves this through its subject matter, informed by his family’s migration story (they came to Cuba from Spain), often featuring transportation themes as well as specifically Cuban imagery, unlike López’s work.

“My family is very important in the development of my pictorial language because it is from family stories that I begin to develop the content of my work,” says De La Fuente. “Stories, travels, emigration—I think they determine the character and the making of my work. Through symbols, I try to recreate an imaginative map of my family history.”

De La Fuente works in multiple media, including drawings, paintings, and woodcut prints, which will all be on view in this show.

“I grew up with my grandfather who knew about the plastic arts and gave me the taste for this profession,” he says. “I basically learned in the Experimental Graphic Workshop in Havana and as a result of my previous studies in painting and fine arts, in previous years. I chose the technique of color-reduction woodcut because it allowed me to apply various shades of color, color mixtures to form my images in addition to the graphic character of my work that is linked to the textures of the wood used.”

While López and De La Fuente will both be able to make their first trip to Provincetown this month for their reception and artist’s talk at the gallery, travel is still difficult for Cuban artists. It’s a consequence of Cuba–U.S. relations that predates any of these artists’ existence. Travel difficulties aside, being an artist in Cuba has other idiosyncrasies as well as similarities to the artist’s life elsewhere.

López says, “[Life] is difficult, like that of all Cubans who live there, but in Cuba, you can dedicate yourself to making art full-time, something that doesn’t happen almost anywhere else. You live better or worse according to the commercial result you have.”

Both have shown in the U.S. as well as other countries, including Colombia and Mexico, and achieved international success.

“My goal is to work, learn, and develop what I know and to share my experiences with as many people as possible,” says De La Fuente simply.

Likewise, López’s creative objectives are about the viewer’s experience, one that is not necessarily informed by the knowledge of him as a Cuban artist per se. He says he hopes “that people stop at least a few minutes in front of them and remember them their whole lives.”

Untitled (oil on canvas, 47 x 59.5”), 2021
by Dairan Fernandez De La Fuente

Dairan Fernandez De La Fuente and Harold López Muñoz will exhibit their work with Darwin Estacio Martinez at La Galeria Cubana, 357 Commercial St., Provincetown, July 8 – 18. There is an artist’s reception on Friday, July 15, 6 – 9 p.m., which De La Fuente and López will attend, as well as an artist talk they will give together on Saturday, July 16, 11 a.m. For information call 508.487.2822 or visit lagaleriacubana.com.

[*Ed. Note: the interviews in this article were conducted in Spanish and translated by the author with the aid of Mariella Gomez and Bruno J. Navarro]