Manuel Mendive (1944 - )


    Manuel Mendive was born in 1944 in the Havana neighbourhood of Luyanó, a neighbourhood where Afro-Cuban families experienced no contradiction between the practice of Santería and contemporary life in Cuba. In these homes, images of orishas, figures of Catholic saints (who often share syncretized traits with the orishas), and portraits of revolutionary heroes could all coexist peacefully on the living-room walls. In many ways, Mendive’s work is representative of this co-mingling of African and European and modern traditions in Cuban life.

    With the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Mendive enrolled in the Academy of San Alejandro, studying painting and sculpture. He graduated in 1963, and held his first solo exhibition in Havana in 1964. Mendive’s paintings of the 1960s were unprecedented in that they presented an alternative, distinctly Afro-Cuban consciousness, while at the same time demonstrating awareness of “Western” pictorial concepts and norms, as Mendive was not an untrained, or naïf, painter, but an artist trained in the European tradition at the nation’s finest art institution. Weaving elements from the myths of Santería with visions from reality (depicting Ché in a stylized jungle filled with animals, for instance), these works articulated the complex, non-contradictory juxtapositions of icons in daily life in Cuba.

    In the early 1980s, Mendive began to travel, first to Russia and Bulgaria, and later to Africa. During that decade, his works became increasingly abstract, moving away from concrete representations both of Santería figures, and of elements from reality. Concurrently, he became more interested in interdisciplinary actions that melded performance, dance, body painting, ritual, and sculpture. He continues to work in a studio outside of Havana, and to exhibit widely both in and outside of Cuba today.

    Jennifer Josten

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