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This winter brought news of a show in Havana curated by artist-photographer René Peña, exploring his own creative trajectory, his influences, and the contemporary artists with whom he shares a sense of connection. Here’s a quick look at some of the works in Dios los cría (God Created Them).

Among the younger photographers Peña opted to include is Arien Chang Castán, whose Ventana (Window) opens this article. In an interview on the website Global Voices, Chang Castán observed that “The life of a Cuban is not reduced to going to work in the morning and coming home in the evening, people in this country go through an odyssey every day. They are constantly tried by the dynamic of life that we have in this country, to put a name to it. The (non-)transport, the (non-)money, and all the other “nons” that each Cuban faces every day leave marks on their faces, in their clothes, in their spirit, sometimes of desperation, sometimes of fun, but they always reflect a story that if you don’t live it yourself or you don’t know how to read it, you can’t take the photo.”

Courtesy Habana Cultural and Factoría Habana

The exhibition included a “rogue’s gallery” of influences and inspirations, caught here on opening night. Artists whose work hangs here include Chuck Close, René Magritte, Grant Wood, Keith Haring, and Pablo Picasso.

Adrián Fernández, Untitled #39, from the series Del Ser o el Parecer (To Be or To Pretend). In this series, Fernández composes painterly still lifes using objects from the homes of well-to-do Habaneros, in which prized vases holding plastic flowers are depicted against a backdrop that continues the central motif. In a statement on his website, Fernández and art historian Sara Alonso Gómez note that in this series and others, Fernández “attempts to decipher some of the elements that make up the material and personal universe of a sector of [the] ‘wealthy class’ in the contemporary Cuba, distanced from the iconic image of the official discourse in the island.” 

Cirenaica Moreira, Abajo estoy despierta (Below I’m Awake), from the series Con el empeine al revés, 2003-2006. Moreira is an internationally known photographer, and Abajo estoy despierta is one of her most widely reproduced images. But Peña also opted to include a more unsettling work of hers…

Cirenaica Moreira, Libertad es una palabra enorme (Liberty is an Enormous Word), from the series Cartas desde el inxilio, 1999-2002.

Peña takes a similar approach with the work of Raúl Cañibano, selecting one of his most popular photographs, Untitled #120…

… and a less well-known but intense and striking image: Raúl Cañibano, Untitled #128.

As a curator, Peña also has an affinity for the work of Rodney Batista. Here, Batista’s Desnudo clásico, 2012.

And another, more haunting work: Rodney Batista, Untitled, 2011.

One of the show’s signature images is an untitled autobiographical work by Peña himself.

Other artists featured in Dios los cría include Aimée García, Alfredo Ramos, Duniesky Martín, Eduardo Hernández, Eduardo Muñoz, Glenda León, Jenny Brito, José Ángel Toirac, Marta María Pérez Bravo, Pepe Menéndez, Reinier Nande, and Reynier Leyva Novo.

On Tuesday, April 1, Factoría Habana’s Laboratory of Ideas and the Faculty of Arts and Letters at the University of Havana will present a panel discussion: “God or Devil? The Figure of the Artist as Curator and Commisisoner.” Panelists include Peña, Humberto Díaz, and Hilda María Rodríguez. 2 p.m. at Factoría Habana.


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