Manuel Beltrán’s Place of Miracles (Rincón de los Milagros) 
 by Ana Lorena Fernández
 
 
Manuel Beltran Semanat looks a little at first glance like a Cuban version of Jesse Ventura. For better or worse, talking with Manuel, it is clear that this is a superficial resemblance, for this Cuban painter and sculptor is attached to his community in a collective way that the fiercely individualistic Jesse could never accept. Indeed, the building in which Manuel lives was built as part of a collective effort in the midst of the Special Period. The Place of Miracles (El Rincón de los Milagros) is the term used for his gallery which pays homage to the Cuban pantheon of saints and deities.

 
 


Manuel Beltrán Semanat is a painter and sculptor who lives in the Nuevo Vedado district since 1991. That year, he and his fellow workers of the Social Construction Microbrigade built the building in which they live today. It was a gigantic task, especially since none of them were actual builders. But however difficult it may have been, their effort brought them closer together and rooted them deeper to the piece of land where they erected their home.

Consequently, Manuel became profoundly attached to the house he built with his own hands, but he felt depressed by the severe and unattractive design of the building, and in 1993, he decided to give some pizzazz to the place by painting a large-scale mural on one of its sides, something he had never done before. Two murals came into being: “Life Itself” and “Birth.” In both murals, the artist reflects not only his view of life but also his Afro-Cuban roots, which have remained inextricably linked to his work.

Manuel, however, is not a painter whose work is seen in galleries or museums, for he has devoted his art to the community. His gallery is located on the corner of Tulipán and Factor Streets in the municipality of Plaza and is known by everyone as El Rincón de los Milagros--The Place of Miracles.

The Place of Miracles pays homage to the Cuban pantheon of saints and deities. The altars hold sculptures and paintings of St. Lazarus, St. Barbara and The Virgin of Charity, which stand side by side with images of some of their more loyal worshipers, such as musicians Pello el Afrokán and Tata Güines.

Manuel attributes the creation of The Place of Miracles to the support provided by Operación Milagro to the community. For almost three years, the hotels in the area became home to many patients from Latin America who received free health treatments in Cuba. The patients, who often came with family members, needed a place that could become the center of their social life, and that was how “The Place…” was born. Years after the mission came to an end, the social center has retained the function it was created for. According to Manuel, this is a space dedicated to the family, no matter where they hail from or where they are going to. The goal here is to transmit positive energy and to provide good luck and fortune.

An important part of Manuel’s work as an artist has been focused on lifting the dark veil that has shrouded Afro-Cuban culture. He strives to ensure that it receives recognition and acceptance by those who refuse to acknowledge it given some of its practices, which are alien to the Christian or Catholic morality that prevails in many parts of the world. Cuba has its saints and they deserve respect--this is one of the beliefs that help the artist to fulfill his work every day.

The gallery has also served as an exhibition space to a number of artists from the community, while Manuel’s workshop has become a school where he teaches sculpture to the neighborhood youth. Some neighbors say that at first it is not easy to get them to join the group, but once it gets under their skin, they become totally faithful, helping the miracle to go on.
Manuel Beltrán’s Place of Miracles (Rincón de los Milagros)
July 2012
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