Natalia Bolívar in her labyrinth

/ 1 December, 2017

A little before Natalia Bolívar began to talk to me about her incursions into painting (…) she warned me with absolute calm and so I would not obstinately search for something that wasn’t there: “I paint to distract myself” (…) And she confessed to me: she has not stopped painting since she entered the Escuela Anexa of the Academia de Bellas Artes San Alejandro back in 1954, taught under Florencio Gelabert in sculpture and Baría in drawing.

Almost since that decade of the fifties, her life also began to be marked, perhaps more profoundly, by ethnological and anthropological research on religious and popular expressions of African origin thanks to an early apprenticeship with Lydia Cabrera. Important branches of knowledge and sensitivity, then, definitively intersected in her life, to try to understand the origins of many areas of our behavior as a culture, society and nation (…)

She then took private painting classes with Hipólito Hidalgo de Caviedes, who was married to a cousin of hers. In the summer vacation of 1955 she decided to enroll on some courses at the very well-known Art Students League of New York (in which several Cuban artists were enrolled on regular courses in those years) with none other than Norman Rockwell (…)

In the midst of that turbulent decade, the new headquarters of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (today the Cuban Art building) began to be built, (…) called her to work in the 1955 Hispano-American Biennial of Art and to train as a future advisor of the event (…). Without doubt, the gatherings in her cousin, the sculptor Rita Longa’s house, also contributed to her training, in which every Sunday a group of Cuban artists met: René Portocarrero, Amelia Peláez, Víctor Manuel, Wifredo Lam; to exchange opinions and tastes regarding painting.

In 1959, the leadership of the Revolutionary Government assigned her in practice to take the reins of the Museo Nacional, although Antonio Rodríguez Morey had officially served as its director for decades. As such, her creative life changed due to such high responsibilities, and partly also to her interest in taking local courses in museography and pre-Columbian art, and beyond our borders to attend training offered by the curator of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art at the Louvre Museum, on topics of museology, cataloging, conservation of collections, and Eastern Spanish and Inuit art. Meanwhile, Julio Lobo entrusted to her in “a storage capacity” his collection of art to be exhibited in the new and restructured museums, especially that related to Napoleon Bonaparte—as well as English and French portraits that he possessed—which served as the basis for the founding of the Museo Napoleónico in December 1961, with Natalia serving as its first director.

(…) Since those early years of the 1960s, Natalia reluctantly abandoned painting due to her commitments to certain cultural institutions. In the middle of that decade, she was abruptly removed from her official posts and relocated to undertake the most diverse occupations, from gravedigger in the Colón cemetery, to caring for ducks on a farm, varied forms of agricultural work, in the jewelry sphere, working as a promotor of the National Theater and founding the Museo Numismático… until she decided to definitely settle in her own home and devote herself entirely to her forever beloved occupations: research and painting.

It was at the beginning of the 1990s that the passion to paint once again took hold of her (…) In that come back (…) she assumed with force and uniqueness the abundant imagery of religious practices and the unfathomable universe of images, forms and signs that they entail, a focus which she decided not to exhibit during that decade. (…) Since the middle of that decade, she had concentrated her pictorial vocation on interpreting the universe of deities and mythologies learned from her time working with Lydia Cabrera. (…)

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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