Arts & Entertainment

Cuban painter to island’s artists: Don’t be timid, keep going

By Raquel Martori

Havana, Jul 2 (EFE).- Cuban painter Flora Fong, who for decades has intermingled the Caribbean and China in her works – just as they are mixed in her own blood – said that artists on the communist island must surmount the difficulties inherent in the serious crisis her country is experiencing and called on them to “preserve” the “high value and great prestige” of their national culture.

In an interview with EFE, the 73-year-old winner of Cuba’s National Award for the Plastic Arts, who has exhibited her work in some 20 countries, acknowledged that local deficiencies and shortages are affecting her work, leading her – on one hand – to reflect on the situation and, on the other, to sharpen her ingenuity to overcome them.

Fong called the current Cuban situation “very tough” and said that it reminded her of another of the worst moments in the island’s recent history: the so-called Special Period after the fall of the Soviet Union and the socialist governments of its Eastern European satellite nations.

“I have felt it to be difficult in terms of the lack of suitable materials for the job,” she said.

Consequently, her option has been “to rest a little, take a moment to analyze what one has done, look back to see what I’m missing and what I can continue doing, like drawing, sketching and organizing myself.”

She said that her projects are moving forward “calmly,” as she waits for a “more appropriate” moment where she will have “more facilities, to be able to do it well”.

In the meantime, she suggested, there must be “a lot of reflection and serenity” because “we’re kind of at the pivot point.”

“The land itself is exhibiting signs like global warming, which is real, and the lack of water,” she said.

“Everybody has to help each other and each nation – in this case us – (must) start to think about what we can do for ourselves. We’re doing it – above all, science does it – and art, because the expression of national culture has a high value and a lot of prestige, and we have to maintain and preserve that,” Fong said.

At this point, she said that the advice she gave to her plastic arts students in 1992 is still completely valid: “Seize the moment and get the best out of yourself. This is just one phase, others will come later. Don’t be timid, you’ve got to keep going. And if you don’t have the materials (right now), look for other alternatives.”

Influenced by abstract art, surrealism and expressionism, Fong’s extensive body of work combines, in her characteristic and authentic way, the light and warm colors of the tropics with elements of the ancient Chinese culture.

Cuban nature is ever-present in her work, ranging from a tobacco leaf to the hurricanes that regularly hit the island where she was born, and including fish, roosters and banana trees. But most of all, there is pervading light of the Tropics, its strength and its reflections, all of which puts “an emphasis on the vegetation, on the sun that dominates the sky.”

In her work, however, she gives equal importance to the “elements, concepts and aesthetic aspects” of Chinese culture, something that she said is “inside (me), in the blood.”

Fonge was born in the central Cuban city of Camaguey to a Cuban mother and a Chinese father.

She began incorporating Oriental elements into her work little by little. Fong, whose surname translates as “autumn cloud,” linked that characteristic feature of her art to the moment, at age 35, that she began studying Chinese at a school in Havana.

Up until that point, she said, she focused on “the palm trees, the big tobacco leaves, our sun, the sunflowers and the sea.” But bit by bit she began to internalize Chinese calligraphy and began to include Chinese characters in her works, “appropriat(ing) a language to be able to say things through (my) work and incorporate (those) elements into Cuban painting.”

She used the elements of Chinese characters as the inspiration for her “Tropical Fish Tanks” series and for other works such as the one titled “It is necessary to cross the great seas” and one capturing a woman’s marriage in China.

Right now, one of Fong’s exhibitions is touring different cities in China but she has also displayed her work in museums and galleries in the United States, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, India, Mexico and Argentina.

Regardless of her difficulties finding the supplies she needs, Fong said that she remains fully active. Among her pending projects, she said she intends to design jewelry and furniture, and present a performance work inspired by the Silk Road that will include a fashion show.

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