From La Habana to El Barrio: Cuban Artists in Upper Manhattan


Self Illuminated: Marlys Fuego & William Pérez, featuring the work of two Cuban artists, is an exhibition that caps a pilot residency project at El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109 in New York. It opened on September 26 and runs through October 26, 2017, at El Barrio’s Artspace PS109. Cuban Art News reports:

Fuego and Pérez’s residency, which runs for four months, is a pilot program supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in collaboration with El Barrio’s Operation Fightback and Artspace PS 109. In the planning for more than a year, it may become the first in a series of residencies for artists from Latin America.

Curator Gabriela García Azcuy collaborated closely with Fuego and Pérez on the residency, from discussions of the work they would undertake to preparing the catalogue for the show. She was also on hand for the conversation with Cuban Art News. Fuego and Pérez had visited New York City before, but this was their first residency in the city. [. . .]

One new addition to Pérez’s ongoing series, El artista en su taller (The artist in his studio), is a kinetic work that superimposes rotating elements onto a large circular drawing. Another work in the series superimposes lighted ink drawings on a larger work.

The kinetic work is positioned opposite a kinetic sculpture by Fuego, Backwards, 2017, which extends her exploration of dolls, a theme she began working with in 2013. “I think it goes back to when I was a child,” she said. “Because in Cuba, when I was small, to have a doll was impossible then, during the Special Period.” Fuego uses a variety of dolls, representing childhood, teenagers, and adult women.

The dolls in Backwards had a special significance for Fuego and were brought from Cuba, but other parts of the work were gathered here. While sequins are not easy to find in Havana, thanks to the fashion industry there is an entire district in Manhattan with stores dedicated to sequins and trimmings. In an earlier work similar to this one, Fuego had to use a large sewing-machine motor, but in New York she was able to find one that was “supersmall. It fit very well in there,” she said.

Fuego’s exploration of the doll theme reaches its peak with Casa de muñecas, 2017. “My doll house, finally,” she exclaimed. “It’s like, wow. I could find everything I wanted, even the little glasses and bottles—everything,” she said. “I built everything. Every floor, every fabric. I did all of it, and I really enjoyed it.”

[. . .] An exhibition was included as part of the residency program, and Self Illuminated will be Fuego and Pérez’s first double show together in the United States. As part of the process, they are converting the lower-level space at PS 109 into a gallery.

While the residency included housing and exhibition space at PS 109, the artists found studio space in Jersey City. This gave them the opportunity to become better acquainted with Cuban artists living in New Jersey and New York City.

As a result, they are presenting a discussion at PS 109 this Friday evening, September 29, with Cuban artists and curators from the broader New York-New Jersey community.

[Image above: William Pérez’s “Casita azul,” from the series Siempre hay un lugar, 2015–2017.]

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