Monday, February 8, 2016

Primavera by Rafael San Juan, La Habana, Cuba, Summer of 2015


As I was researching the story behind this sculpture, I ran across an incredible article through Arte Por Excelencias and have included it below. The piece is located in front of the hotel we used during our early visits, the Hotel Deauville. 

This past summer was my first viewing of this incredible face, and it took my breath away truly as few sculptures have done. With Alejandro's help, we arrived to the hotel around 9:30 and waited until the sun cleared the top of the hotel and gently touched her face. The image was difficult to make, because of the adjacent buildings and the strong angle of the sun.

So here she is, 'Primavera' by Rafael San Juan.

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Article in Arte Por Excelencias:

A huge woman face looks to the sea from Havana’s Malecón and its creator, Cuban sculptor Rafael San Juan, announced that he was inspired by the movements and spirit of Cuban ballet dancer Viengsay Valdés. 

Seven months ago, the first dancer of the Cuban National Ballet, helped him to define the pose and form of the neck of Primavera (Spring), as he baptized the eight-meter high sculpture built with recycled steel that is being exhibited during the 12th Havana Biennial. 

To study Valdes’ movement transmitted the spirit of the piece and then, the explanation she gave me about her idea of the Cuban women captivated me. One of her suggestions was that it won’t look down, because women here are strong; they face work, problems, told San Juan to Prensa Latina. 

Due to this suggestion made by the famous dancer, the sculptor assures that although Primavera doesn’t reflect a specific face, but the conjunction of many, the sculpture spirit comes from Valdés, restless worker and admirable Cuban woman. 

The observation and exchange with several dancers form that company made San Juan to enhance his vision about the muscular movement however he has long been interested in the human body anatomy and remembered that when he was 18 years old, while accomplishing his military service, he asked a permission to enter the cemetery and to hold a human skull. Workers there were going to throw away many human remains into a common grave and when they knew about his unusual interest, encouraged him to take the whole bones of a human body that he keeps in his house under the name of Hector. To be able to set that skeleton he requested advice in a Medical School faculty and due to his interest in the subject he was finally accepted in a human body anatomy post-graduate course. That relation with the academy later made possible for him to use human bones and organs for his arts exhibits. 

He studied at the prestigious San Alejandro National Art School and during the 90s was a stage designer for theatre plays like Electra by Teatro la luna Company and Fabio, La tempestad and Terriblemente inocente by Cuban Contemporary Dance Company. 

He considered that staging design helped him to look things from a monumental perspective and favored his decision to work with great format pieces. 

In 2002, San Juan traveled to Mexico to design the Cuban pavilion in a literary fair and there he built his first giant piece, a face of the Cuban national hero Jose Marti with books that were given to the children on the last day of the event. 

That was the artist starting point, who at present exhibits monumental steel sculptures of feet, hands and faces in public places in the United States and Mexico—five women faces at Central Park in Guadalajara, representing each continent. 

Woman is a constant in his faces, because Rafael sees that genre as a starting point of beauty, however in the case of the hands, he prefers to represent men’s hands due to the expressivity of the effect of work seen through the hard skin. 

Last Biennial, San Juan created the piece Contención, made by human organs in formol recipients, all of which were provided by the Faculty of Medicine, the help of which was also essential in the next event to set 99 real skeletons installation entitled La muerte es un proyecto. 

Primavera is the first monumental sculpture the artist can present his country with and once the 12th Biennial concludes he will donate the piece to the City Historian Office which has supported him in this effort. The piece, located in the corner of popular streets Malecón and Galeano, is a tribute to the Cuban woman: a bunch of mariposas (butterfly flower), the Cuban national flower, decorates the sculpture’s hair.