Kern Saunders @UNPACK

Kern Saunders @UNPACK

Cuba felt like home but with its unique twist. I’m a visual artist hailing from the islands of Trinidad and Tobago… So being introduced to my Caribbean cousins was, in short, an experience like none other. The people are some of the warmest hearts I’ve felt. Starting with Omar Alberto, the ever smiling daily coordinator with whom I’m now friends with. Omar really saw to it that things were arranged as best as they could have been for both myself and my fellow residents. A juggling act that he performed admirably, doubling as our Cuban historian, dispelling myths and shedding light on the country’s rich culture and turbulent history.

Dannys and I

Arriving in the dark of night I had no idea as to the vibrancy of life that awaited me. There’s so much movement and engagement but all with a sense of serenity, a pace of life I haven’t felt in quite some time. One doesn’t have to walk very far before meeting someone ready and willing to engage in conversation and share experiences. And I did a lot of walking, I found it was actually one of the best ways to really absorb the sights and sounds of the island.

I came with the intention of executing a social art project but life had it that it quickly gave way to study, learning and experience. The art knowledge and education I was exposed to has been invaluable. Ossain Raggi, the Vice Dean of Visual Arts at ISA (University of Arts) was my well-learned tutor for the duration of my stay. Under his tutelage I endeavoured to nail down the basic concepts of drawing. My aim being to translate what I did on a screen to paper. The processes I quickly realised were completely different. It required an entirely new approach with how I saw my subjects and how I see the elements that comprise an image. Ossain definitely propelled me forward with his lessons but the tips and tricks within the exercises were the major keys to my understanding. I learned a lot, enough to add to my skill set.

I spent 6 weeks in Cuba at Unpack Studio and in that time I’m happy to have met some really amazing people. My fellow residents, Beau, Norman and Gabrielle at the very end. Another of the more influential people I met was Dannys Montes de Oca Moreda, the Director of the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Arts Center and one of the curators of the Havana Biennial. I was scheduled to meet with her twice a week and it was through her that I had the opportunity to visit some of the amazing exhibitions I had seen while there, solidifying for me just how subjective art is. My main take away was that art still, in this day and age, has power and it’s not simply decoration. I was happy to see that being made quite evident especially in a space where art is such an intrinsic part of life. I have renewed faith in art’s ability to bring about lasting change.

Chino and his work in process
Chino and his work in process

I truly had a great time in Cuba. Settling in and making Vedado my home, becoming an accepted member of the neighborhood and wider community to the point it was assumed I was Cuban 😀 . Meeting amazing Cuban artists like Henry Eric with whom I had a really nice conversation of the importance of meaning in art, he was actually one of the art lecturers at ISA and I’m really looking forward to hopefully collaborating with him on  projects in the future. Then there was Chino, Francisco Puen Ávila…I was blown away by his artistry. He specializes in sculpting out of styrofoam with incredible detail and accuracy, making it all come to life in the end with an equally amazing paint job. Partly why I was as impressed was because of the speed in which he accomplished his work… A week, sometimes less, for an entire life sized sculpture. I don’t think you can get anymore proficient than that! Then I had the honor of meeting Jesús Gastell Soto, literally a master of drawing. His work so detailed and mind bending in its faked realism prompting you to look deeper, that there really aren’t enough words to describe just how masterfully they’re done. Unfortunately I was only able to see images and not the actual drawings, which tower over you, but just to have met him and shake his hand was a treat. Another hopeful collab would be Nestor Siré, such a cool and talented dude. Operating within my given sphere of artwork he really stretches the boundaries of what most understand visual (digital) art to be.

I was privileged enough to visit ISA through the efforts of Ossain and my friend Omar. ​​​​​​​​​​​​Simply WOW. To say the very least, an artist attending this prestigious institute is truly blessed. The students basically control the art spaces and what they create there is nothing short of creative and inspired. From painting to sculpting and then a few very interesting experiments with different mediums and materials. I wished there was something as advanced as this back home.

Unpack Studio truly places you squarely in the meat of things here in Havana. Culturally through the day-to-day activities and more so artistically, exposing the artist to all forms of art while adding new context to be considered that invariably expands one’s view on art as a whole. The experience is definitely tailored for ease of transition but also to make some very interesting and necessary contacts. I absolutely enjoyed my stay and I’m going back home with new insight and a renewed passion for the arts. A big thanks to the Unpack Studio team for a job well done in what is being provided.

Parade through the streets

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