Tamarind Institute’s Cuban Project Kicks Off
Cuban artist Osmeivy Ortega’s residency at Tamarind Institute in February, where he printed lithography editions and shared woodcuts of animals that he created in Cuba at a February 19th reception, marked the start of Tamarind’s 2015 Cuban project. Three to five additional Cuban artist and curator visits are being planned for the remainder of the year, said Tamarind Institute director Marjorie Devon by telephone.
Devon began visiting Cuba in 2004 when she was invited to jury an exhibition of Cuban printmakers. She awarded the top prize to Ortega “about whom I knew nothing,” she said. “He was 22 years old, he came up to get the award with tears in his eyes.”
That 2004 award ceremony marked the moment when Devon said she determined to bring Ortega to Tamarind for a residency. It also was the first of a series of trips that the Tamarind director has led to Cuba to tour visual arts museums and artists’ studios, under the auspices of UNM’s Latin American and Iberian Institute’s People-to-People license.
Ortega’s bird and animal imagery derives from both his childhood surroundings as he grew up cared for by his grandmother in the countryside, and also from the fantastical influence of Afro-Cuban traditions.
“I asked him, ‘where do you get the idea to make pictures of ostriches and giraffes and animals you never see in Cuba?’ (He explained) that it’s really a reference to the African roots of so many Cubans,” Devon said.
Ortega, who now teaches printmaking at the Instituto de Artes Superior in Havana, studied law for five years before abandoning the legal studies in favor of art.
Other confirmed Cuban visitors to Tamarind this year include Omar Diaz, curator of the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana. Diaz will deliver a public talk about contemporary Cuban art during a planned visit to Tamarind in September.
In December, Tamarind will host artist Abel Barroso, born in 1971 in Pinar del Rio, Cuba. Barroso often combines printmaking with sculpture and installation, and has had his work included in the Havana Biennial.
“I just think it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to share a tiny little bit of the really exciting work that Cuban artists are making now,” Devon said. She will be leading another trip to Cuba in late January 2016, which she notes will be her swan song as she retires from the directorship of Tamarind after 30 years.