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China, the land of her father, and this Caribbean island, the land of her mother and where she was born in 1949 and has lived all of her life, are the two magical forces with which she has learned to energize her field of action. First, let us consider stillness, the art of waiting, the ability to build a giant solid world out of details and minimalist concepts. And then, let us learn to ensnare the pulsating ocean which becomes wild and dissatisfied when it goes beyond the coastline; the wind picking up and ripping out all the seedlings that have been planted with such dedication; a boundless sensuality that often predominates over the mind. Flora is entrenched at ground-zero where both realities are generated and from this point she builds surprising visual testimonies generated by counter-point relationships.
Her work is very direct and yet at the same time provocative. Her work processes are further enhanced by not projecting any definitive hierarchic line between the poles that influence it. At times, profusion and tropical symbols are seen to be toned down by the rationale of Oriental thinking; at other moments, it is that Oriental thinking that is invaded by the opulence of the tropics.
The different threads that weave Flora Fong’s artistic oeuvre together are close to being, in some fashion, an identity conflict. Starting with these threads, she unleashes an intense body of imagery that, with increased assurance, turns into visual delight. Such divertimenti can find scenarios on land, at sea or even in dreams themselves; it is an excuse used to transform landscape aspects into something that is more lyrical and ecstatic. Many of her canvases seem to reaffirm that human beings are struggling between the immediacy of customs wherever they live and a strong memory that pushes them towards their true origin.
Flora grounds herself considerably in some Chinese ideograms that evoke the understanding of the fate of beings; ideograms that, among many things, may signify the most important elements that provide balance—the exact place between creation and destruction, aspects that should they not be understood cause us to be unhappy. We are thinking of key elements like sun, rain, wind, forest, garden, mountain and cloud—things that permanently govern our bodies and our souls.
Observing the images in each of her series (for example, Ancestros (Ancestors), Bahías (Bays), Caribe (Caribbean), Gallineros (Chicken Coops), Girasoles (Sunflowers), Hoja de tabaco (Tobacco Leaf), La fruta (The Fruit), Platanales (Banana Groves) anyone may begin to learn about our island without having first set foot on it. Each work holds a piece of what we are. Events emanate from them. They are linked to the heart of the country where its religions, seas, flowers, cock fights, the fragrance of coffee and tobacco smoke tend to intertwine to produce something exotic that captures our senses in its unique expression.
Flora Fong not only paints and draws; she has also entered into the worlds of ceramics, stained glass, textile design and the production of kites in the Oriental manner. Sculpture is another of the languages of visual arts that she has penetrated in depth. The most consistent proof of this was her 2008 show called Una nueva Dimensión (A New Dimension) at the Cuban Art Building of the National Museum of Fine Arts.
For Una nueva Dimensión, Flora went to the factory. She entered that untidy, rough yet fascinating space of La Antillana de Acero, thesteelworks factory considered to be the best for metal productions in Cuba. There she came face to face with steel in order to give solid shape to her ideas. This beautiful relationship saw the creation of pieces such as Huele a café (It Smells lLike Coffee), La pecera tropical (Tropical Fish Bowl), Toda la energía viene del cielo (All Energy Comes from Heaven), Alboroto en el gallinero (Uproar in the Chicken Coop)and Lomerío (Range of Hills). The great themes in her paintings once again flow together with total spontaneity in these works.
Since the 1970s, Flora Fong has been present on several occasions in the urban spaces of Cuba. Some of her sculptures are set up at public sites or tourist resorts. She has been asked to participate in group murals on more than one occasion. One of the most outstanding is the mural in the lobby of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. She has also crafted stained-glass windows whose beauty and harmony enrich the visuality of Havana. Her work has also spread to the graphic arts, participating famously in the design of books and other printed matter.
The path begun by Flora Fong in 1973 when she first exhibited her “Drawings and Paintings” at the Galiano Gallery has been rich with wisdom and devotion. Her maxim in life seems to be rectitude, never straying from the path, being true to intuition and to memory.
March 2015 This article formed part of the March 2015 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
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