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Home (The 2012 Havana Biennial Art Exhibition )
Back in the 1980s, Manuel Mendive (National Visual Arts Prize-winner 2001) began using human bodies as canvases for performances in which rituals and dance converged. The fantastic and mythical universe of African religions, with their magical and symbolic language, and a deliberate naiveté in drawings, spatial layout and the use of color have shaped the artist’s expressive environment.
Las cabezas is Mendive’s most recent performance, which to the rhythm of a conga, opened the Biennial, paving the way and inviting all to take part in a parade of painted naked and half-naked bodies, masks and mimes, the ubiquitous “bicitaxis” and fruit vendors, a chorus of a hundred voices of the National Opera, members of the National Circus and dance companies Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, Danza del Caribe, Danza Fragmentada, Rakatán, Okantomí and Estudio Teatral Vivarta, and whoever wished to join in the conga.
Prior to the performance, over 100 actors, dancers and models assembled at the lobby of the Garcia Lorca where Mendive turned their bodies into his canvases. From there, they set out down Prado to the Malecón and then returned along the same avenue up to the Capitolio. There, a platform had been raised with the representation of a “bohío”—typical Cuban rural dwelling made of palm tree boards and thatched roof of “yagua,” the dried royal palm leaf—in which a small theater action took place giving way to pianist Frank Fernandez, whose performance marked the end of Mendive’s action.
As is customary in him, Mendive used various techniques and resorted to the African roots in a search for all things primitive. On this occasion, the artist made an imaginative display that recreates the unusual world of magical realism, with human heads that were intermixed with sculpted heads, and the naked or half-naked bodies were altered with signs painted on the skin in contrasting and bright colors, giving it a particular texture. The entranced crowds, sometimes as active participants and sometimes as mere onlookers, became part of Mendive’s performance.
With this call for understanding and the acceptance of differences under the principle of love, the people marched or danced down Prado Avenue, exhibiting paintings by the artist along with the painted bodies. The performance ended at the Capitolio, where pianist Frank Fernandez played Chopin’s Prelude No. 4. Manuel Mendive
Born in Havana in 1944 and a graduate of San Alejandro Academy of Arts in 1963, Manuel Mendive has become one of the most important figures of contemporary Cuban visual art. One year after his graduation, Mendive held his first exhibition and since then, he has continued to delve into the world of cultural syncretism that characterizes his work—a combination of elements from African religions with local landscapes and techniques that include oil, as well as performances, such as the one that took place this past May 10, 2012 in the streets of Havana
Mendive’s art-work has positioned him as one of the most internationally renowned Cuban living artists whose works can be found in museums and galleries all over the world as well as in private collections. Following his visit to Africa in 1982, where he traveled for a whole year, his pictorial concept changed and he began to portray images connected with the natural environment and Afro-Cuban culture. He also began to stage performances through body art, his human canvases usually involving dancers and actors. May / 2012 Home (The 2012 Havana Biennial Art Exhibition )