Cuba Artist’s Pilgrimage for Life

By Irina Echarry, photos: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, April 2 – It rained a lot, and the night promised more showers.  People waited, anxious because of the delay.  The sound of a drum signaled the start.  White, red and yellow flowers; faces painted white, women attired in loose fitting dresses made of the same type of cloth as the men’s  pants, bare chests, smoke, the scent of incense – everything indicated that we would witness a ritual.

Performance by Manuel Mendive at Havana Biennial
Performance by Manuel Mendive at Havana Biennial

Artist Manuel Mendive has now made us accustomed to his mass performances. Visual arts mix with the Yoruba religion, artists blend with the public; it’s a mixture where respect for one another prevails – especially for the “maestro,” as many people call him.

Manuel Mendive at the Havana Biennial
Manuel Mendive at the Havana Biennial

People barely familiar with the art form participated, as did others who didn’t know much about the religion. Passers-by who made their way in front of the Capitolo Building in Havana got involved along with the many people who follow everything new by Mendive, because they know the painter is a lover of nature and love.

Several of the models simulated having three breasts (perhaps as symbol of maternity), with some having striking red nipples. A boy had a face drawn on his chest, others wore masks. One group, all dressed in white, carried rustic pitchfork-type instruments used for working in the field, and that in Yoruba symbolism serve to open paths. Still, everyone was carrying some type of offering.

From when he left the Concepción Arenal School, in front of the Saratoga Hotel, until he got to the García Lorca Theater, Mendive was drawing on a long white roll of paper. On it were designed masks, the word “love,” and a human figure whose head was a nest in which a dove rested – alluding of course to the artist’s concern for peace.

In the entranceway of the theater, a giant screen reflected the movements of several naked models -sometimes sexy and other times more grotesque- each with a few touches of paint on their bodies.  Finally, the artist left the inauguration of the exhibition on display in the Orígenes Gallery (of the same theater), where his paintings and sculptural installations can be appreciated.

Gustavo, a 40-year-old journalist, said he doesn’t like what the painter does; having never identified with the art. Be it with both followers and detractors, one can see that Mendive involves many people in his projects.  Hundreds of people from Havana gathered that night to accompany the procession, despite the rain.

Audience at Performance by Manuel Mendive at Havana Biennial
Painting by Manuel Mendive at the 10th Havana Biennial

The street filled with faces of astonishment, uncertainty and incomprehension; they revealed their expressions – sometimes smiling, sometimes disturbed.

There were also foreigners, like Marcos, a Panamanian student who is finishing his last year of medicine. He said he was “happy to have witnessed this call for life, unity and love.”

Click on the thumbnails to see all the photos in this gallery

One thought on “Cuba Artist’s Pilgrimage for Life

  • thanks for sharing these photos!

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