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WUM Interview: "Havaneras" by Alejandro Leyva in Havana Nostra - Miami Florida

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Cuban-born artists have always had the privilege to travel and exhibit their works overseas but for more than a decade such flow of creative talent in the island was somehow restricted between Cuba and the U.S. It was not until 2009, when Barack Obama was elected president, that cultural and artistic exchange between the two countries was again resumed continuing with President Clinton’s strategy of encouraging change through economic and social activity rather than isolation. Alejandro Leyva, a Cuban-born artist with a prolific artistic career in Havana is one of those artists that benefited from the Obama administration’s rapprochement which eased restrictions on visas issued to Cuban artists.


Leyva, who only a year ago decided to call Miami home leaving his son and family behind, believes that this new phase of cooperation will increase the visibility of Cuban artists in America from another perspective through engagement and cultural exchange. “Cuba has never had an issue with artists traveling overseas or receiving invitations from galleries asking for participation; we have always been cultural ambassadors for our country” said Alejandro Leyva who will be exhibiting the “Havaneras” series at Havana Nostra on March 22, 2012. “Havaneras” is Leyva’s first solo exhibition in the U.S., a series of nocturnal women from Havana which were painted in his hometown reflecting on their current circumstances, their lives often connected with a superficial corrupted society that values beauty as the most treasured asset. “Most of my work relies on my experiential life in which I try to have the viewers reflect on it rather than having them only appreciate colors, forms or shapes,” said Leyva. From the “Havaneras” series, a young Cuban couple from Brickell who collect Latin American art recently acquired from Leyva “Se Fue” a stunning 60” x 80” oil on paper, the only one of the series painted in Miami which had an intrinsic emotional meaning for the artist. “‘Se Fue’ means it’s gone and that literally is the last of those series in which I say farewell to the Havaneras, a collage on paper depicting 3 women painted in sepia color, one of them wearing a dress with the Cuban flag in reverse who left the scene,” added Leyva. “The other two women are greeting my entrance to America with its flag painted in the background."

For this upcoming solo show, WUM interviews Alejandro Leyva to learn more about his longstanding passion and why creating art to him is just like breathing, a necessity we all need to survive and exist. WUM: Tell us about a moment in your childhood when you recognized the need to paint as a vocation. One summer of 1983, I was about 13 years old and I was walking with my father in Camaguey, a central town in Cuba which is the third largest city when we saw an open call to artists, a painting contest. At the time, my older brother Esteban, who nowadays is an established and renown artist was graduating at the Instituto Superior de Arte. My father encouraged me to apply and participate in that contest. Such experience allowed me to express myself in many ways innocently scribbling, drawing and painting almost anything and everything. The same year, I started my first art studies at the Vocational School Luis Casas Romero following 12 more years of preparation and art instruction to finally graduate in 1995. WUM: What did you do after graduation? I began to teach painting, drawing and ceramics. I also began to receive instruction in photography & design taking lessons and attending creative workshops at the International Press Center in Havana. In 1990, at only 21, I received my first international invitation to exhibit my works in a collective exhibition in Madrid, Spain at Galeria Andrago; a year later, I participated in a collective at the IV Biennial of Havana which gave me prominence and encouraged me to participate in future exhibitions in Panama and Mexico years later.


WUM: What are your influences in your work? First of all, my special teacher and mentor has been my brother, Esteban. Then, I could mention many masters who have also inspired my work such as Matisse, Cezanne, Lam, Rivera, de Kooning, Pollock, Warhol, Rothko, Duchamp and Picasso.

WUM: How would you describe your work? I use and abuse color saturating the entire surface contrasting primary and complementary colors which I mix with oils, acrylics, crayons and pastels to give life to figurative forms which are derived from life itself. I refuse to use the traditional "natural" places in my work but I am always eager to explore more of the emotional aspects of human form such as anxiety, fear, innocence or guilt which create ambiguity in interpretation. My goal is to connect with the viewer transmitting an alternative explanation using erotic symbols that suggest some sort of conflict such as secrets and taboos found in our societies.

MOCA Cleveland's Permanent Collection

WUM: Last year, one of your pieces was included in the permanent collection of MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. Can you tell us how that happened? In 2007, in Cuba I met Ronn Richard, President and CEO of The Cleveland Foundation, a former U.S. diplomat who first traveled to Cuba following a recommendation by his brother who lived in Los Angeles and who traveled to Cuba on a yearly basis with a group called “Platinum Advisors” bringing American visitors to the island. Richard came to me and we quickly established a friendship that later lead to business. In that trip, Richard bought two paintings, one mine from the “Harlequin” series made in 2004 which was previously exhibited in Panama, and another one by Nelson Dominguez. The 80” x 64” piece made on Casson paper, had a strong emotional content because it was inspired by the birth of my son in 2003. When Richard returned to the U.S. he enjoyed my piece in his home and subsequently presented it at MOCA. In his successive trips to Cuba, he started collecting some of my works acquiring two additional pieces for his private collection. WUM: In less than a year in Miami, you have been invited to participate in collective exhibitions with Kavachnina Contemporary, Art Naples, arteamericas and Red Dot Art Fair. What are your expectations about your career in your new place of residence? My expectations and goals are linked in essence; I want to be a better man and a better artist.

Alejandro Leyva "Havaneras" Solo Exhibit will be on view from March 22 to April 22 at Havana Nostra, 1641 SW 8th Street, Miami Florida 33135. For more information about Eclectic Artist Alejandro Leyva's work for sale please contact Project Sales Manager, Patricia Scremin at

Posted 12th March 2012 by Jesus Manuel Rojas Torres

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