Art Brut Project Cuba in Havana

/ 1 March, 2018

In a modest house located in El Cerro neighborhood in Havana, one can visit a sort of gallery or mini museum specialized in the work of non–professional Cuban creators, who have not been trained in the art field and face dysfunctional and complex social psychological situations, and even mental disorders. The project goes by the name of Art Brut Project Cuba and it comprises around 30 thousand pieces (mostly paint and drawing on paper and cardboard, but also metal, cardboard, fabric and wood small and medium format sculptures). The pieces belong to more than 35 Cuban artists and are treasured and looked after by artist Samuel Riera, who runs this minuscule cultural institution since 2012 thanks to his own efforts and funding and the help of an assistant director, two collaborators and the solidarity of numerous friends inside and outside of Cuba.

The initial idea started from researching and showing the art of the “periphery”; in other words, those expressions far removed from the institutional network of the visual arts system. Unintentionally, they act as a sort of alternativeness that values other sides of creation. In the genesis of the project, Riera was interested in conceiving the exhibition of the works in the public space, the street, in broad daylight, on light supports that simulated the conventional wheelbarrows used to sell food products. Without a doubt, something uncommon in its popular structure and content, accessible to everyone… until he decided to promote the works differently, using part of his house, also as a better way to preserve the works.

Interested in the definitions of folk art, naïf art, primitive art, he gravitated more towards outside art since the English term “outsider” is more open and broad. But with no intention of being included in either of these denominations, we are definitely talking about a singular type of art produced by singular human beings.

(…) In the tight space of his family home (…) Samuel has also managed to organize a tiny workshop in which two or three of the artists work every week with materials provided by him thanks to donations. (…)

Parallel to his intense research and promotional activity, Samuel Riera keeps his personal work alive since he graduated from the San Alejandro Fine Arts Academy in Havana, where he also worked as a professor for 12 years. (…) He creates in the same workshop that he shares with the artists that are linked to the project, since he does not have a private space. This allows him to have a permanent and close contact with these creators, thus constantly reviving the project.

As a rara avis in our visual arts context, this modest institution rises in Havana: step by step, persistently and tenaciously, as a simple call to broaden our ideas and points of view about aesthetic creation, specifically that which does not always shine in the dazzled space of great galleries and museums, biennials, fairs or auction houses.

Nelson Herrera Ysla

Nelson Herrera Ysla

Art critic, curator, poet. He is co-founder of the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center and of the Havana Biennial, an event he led from 1999 to 2001, and where he is currently curator. He has lectured in numerous countries and published numerous critical texts in specialized publications of Cuba and abroad. General Curator of the XVI Paiz Biennial of Guatemala, 2008. Essay Jury of the Casa de las Américas Prize, 2005, and international art events in Latin America. National Award for Arts Criticism Guy Pérez Cisneros, 2007, and National Prize for Curators 2013, both in Cuba.

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