The Most Striking Sculpture of Havana’s 12th Arts Biennale

By Helson Hernández

HAVANA TIMES — Located on the intersection of Havana’s Malecon ocean drive and Galiano Street, Primavera (“Spring”), a piece authored by sculptor and professor Rafael San Juan, strikes the eye for its visual qualities and size. Today, San Juan speaks to Havana Times about this noteworthy creation. “What required the most work and time was conveying the sculpture’s movement.”

HT: How would you describe your sculpture?

Rafael San Juan: It’s a large-scale, figurative sculpture of a woman who gives off much sensuality and character. The interesting thing about this piece is that, despite being made out of a hard-edged, cold and rigid material, I managed to create the abundance of curves and series of details you see in it. It is 7 meters high. Its crown of flowers will be 3 by 80 meters, approximately, and weight about 2 tons.

HT: Does the piece include any reference to women in ballet?

RSJ: Yes, we sought to make it a strong-bodied woman with a spirit of greatness, in a markedly upright posture. We did research at the Cuban National Ballet company and worked with several ballerinas, that was the starting point. I was always very curious, looking at faces, poses. What required the most work and time was conveying the sculpture’s movement, the spirit that the work has.

HT: Was there a face in particular that inspired the sculture?

RSJ: There were many, actually. I came across a whole range of beautiful faces, but, in the end, I decided to combine them into a whole that would be the refelction of many different souls.

HT: Why did you title the sculpture Primavera?

RSJ: First of all because of the dates. Secondly, because it was like reuniting with Havana. I had wanted to do a piece of this magnitude for many years, as a gift to the city that would remain. Hence the title, because of the freshness of the work.

HT: What media did you use to bring Primavera to life?

RSJ: Steel, recycled steel, something that was very curious for me. In this globalized world, with so many environmental problems, to have found this material, which is really industrial waste, and to make this piece out of it, I think that’s the first important point to be made, independent of everything that comes later, with the work itself. This discarded, dead steel, to give it life through art, it was a challenge for me, and it’s a gift I would like to offer nature, which has allowed us to be here.

HT: Can you tell us of other experiences outside galleries and other conventional exhibition spaces?

RSJ: In 2009, I started to make pieces for public installations. One piece has led me to the next. It’s been hard work these past few years, because very large pieces demand notable physical effort and there’s barely enough time between one work and the next. I think that, one of the aims of my work has been to take my pieces out of the closed context that a museum and gallery represent, to a public space. Then, the piece is a part of everyone and is enjoyed by everyone.

HT: Will the piece become a permanent installation after the Biennale has ended?

RSJ: If time allows it. I am referring to the relationship between the piece and the sea, since it is set up on the ocean drive. If they can co-exist, we hope this becomes its eternal resting place. If it can’t be, we’ll look for another place where the work can breathe and stand out.

HT: How long did it take you to achieve the final result?

RSJ: About a year, counting the time it took to make the model, find the right place to install the sculpture and actually make the piece, which was about 3 and some months, working hard in 12-hour shifts, with the support of a group of friends, without whom I would not have been able to complete the piece, given its characteristics.

HT: Tell us about the beginning of your career as an artist.

RSJ: I graduated from the San Alejandro Fine Arts Academy in 1996 and then completed additional studies in stage design and human anatomy. My work is multi-faceted. In addition to the monumental sculptures, I’ve also done set design for the Teatro de la Luna theater company, Danza Contemporanea, for the choreographer Lidice Nuñez, and pieces such as Fabio y la tempestada (“Fabio and the The Tempest”), very memorable choreographies at one time.

HT: How would you sum up the visual impact that Primavera has?

RSJ: A woman on her pedestal contemplates Havana with a penetrating gaze.

3 thoughts on “The Most Striking Sculpture of Havana’s 12th Arts Biennale

  • My daughter just visited Havana, and sent me a photo of this piece. Its striking, to be sure. My daughter did not have the grand time rich elite tourists do there, so much for the vomiting of bs about a place so repressive and backward, the people are hungry and abused. Nice sculpture though. What a government, that isn’t a government, but a club for psycho nepotistic despots. She got swindled of her money and spent the last two days hungry and wanting to leave. The place is filthy. She is still sick a week after coming home.

  • Havana is the most exciting city in the Caribbean.
    Fabrica de Arte Cubano is a new contemporary hot spot in Havana Vedado, originally the
    headquarters for Havana’s electricity company, then converted to an
    olive oil factory now Cuban Art Factory.
    More on Havana culture:

  • One of the things that struck me when I visited Cuba in 2013 were the beautiful, evocative and very original sculptures that can be seen in Havana. The artistry of this particular piece is stunning and pure genius. The Cuban government is to be commended for giving artists the encouragement to produce such works as well as the space to show them!

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