My Life 10 Years Ago.

The other day I went through a package of papers that I took with me from Cuba when I first moved to the USA in 2001. In this package I had all these carefully organized files where I kept track of everything that I did from 1989 to 1999, related to my art career. In all these years I never opened this package until last Saturday and I am so glad that I did it. One of the things that called my attention was a catalogue from a group show that I participated in 1998, in Havana, called: Siete Miradas (7 Visions). I can remember every detail about that show. In the photo below you can see the cover of the catalogue with a picture of Roberto fabelo (one of the artists from the show).


But what made me so happy about the catalogue was the group portrait with the seven of us who participated in the show (see photo below) from left to right you see: Alicia Leal, Juan Moreira (they are married), Zaida del Rio, Vicente Bonachea, Pedro Alvarez, myself and Roberto Fabelo. We are all friends and I miss them sooo much. In this photo we look kind of tense but the truth is that during the photo session we couldn't stop laughing and making jokes. That day was really hot and the location was Roberto Fabelo's gallery (where the show took place) in Old Havana, my favorite part of the city.

Now let me tell you a few things about my friends so you know how they are and I will dedicate a little more space in the end to Pedro Alvarez (he is wearing glasses) who passed away in 2004 at the age of 37.

Alicia and Moreira (the couple on the left) are one of the most wonderful couples that I know. We were neighbors so we saw each other pretty often. I loved visiting them a lot (they are great cooks!) and their house is so beautiful, it is a colonial property that they remodeled with lots of work. Before he married Alicia, Moreira had a daughter who is my age and she is a great Artist. Then he and Alicia started a family and had a daughter who is so beautiful, she is a ballerina.

Zaida del Rio (with the checkered skirt) is a great artist and she is an amazing character too! One of the funniest women that I ever met. She comes from the country side and she also lived not far from my place in Havana. Having her around was the best thing ever because she made the best jokes plus she had the highest energy that you can imagine.

Vicente Bonachea (sitting on the floor) is such a sweet guy, so is his wife. They have a child who has developmental problems and they adore him. I remember them talking about their son all the time. Now that I have Diego I can understand their devotion.

Roberto Fabelo (on the right side of the photo) is a prolific artist in Cuba. I love his drawings and he is such a great human being. He is married to beautiful Suyu who is Cuban-Chinese and they have two children. By the way, did you know that in Cuba there is an important Chinese community?


Below there is this portrait of me taken by Ricardo Ellias in my studio. Ellias is another friend who was given the task to take individual photos of the seven of us for the catalogue. I still have the piece that I am looking at in the photo, it is framed in our dinning room. I look at this picture and I see a very different Elsita. I could not imagine then all the things that I was going to experience in the next ten years. Ten years can make a huge difference in someone's life!


And here you see the piece that I made for the show. It pretty much represents everything that I was going through in 1998. I can write a whole book about that year. It was a mixed time, full of good things and bad things. I had my first solo show with a gallery in New York City, that was very important to me as an Artist (even when the USA government wouldn't give me a visa to attend the opening). And in the other hand I was not happy with my personal life since I was in a marriage that wasn't working out. 1998 was a year of growth for me, I learned so many things. The main thing that I learned is that if you're not happy with your life ONLY YOU have the power to change it. I am very grateful for that part of my life because it was a great school.


And now I will tell you more about Pedro Alvarez Castello (he is wearing glasses in the group portrait). He was one of the most original artists from what is known as "Special Peroid" in Cuba. Pedro was a painter with a unique vision and sense of humor. Look at the picture below and you will see what I mean. This is one of his paintings titled: End of the USA Embargo.

Much of his work utilized a juxtaposition of pop culture references, such as clippings from The Simpsons comic books, against traditional Cuban images, such as 19th century peasants and troubadours. I took this line from Wikipedia.


When I read the news about Pedro's death I was in shock, I couldn't not believe it. He was in the best time of his career plus he had just had a baby with a wonderful Cuban artist. Pedro was such a smart person, so down to earth and easy-going.

On February 12, 2004, Álvarez died after jumping out of the fifth-floor window of a hotel in Tempe, Arizona just five days after the beginning of a major solo exhibition of his work, "Landscape in the Fireplace," at the Arizona State University Art Museum. Police found no evidence of drug or alcohol use.[5] He didn't leave a suicide note, and his death was a shock to people who had spoken with him just hours before. (Wikipedia)

His death is still under investigation, those who knew him cannot believe that he committed suicide. It is sad to think that he is not with us anymore but we are fortunate to have his work which is now shown in museums around the world. Pedro's art is an important element within the cuban culture and I am sure that his daughter will be very proud of her father when she grows up.

Well my friend, this was a little open door to my past that I was so glad to share with you. Now I wonder what my life will be like in the next ten years. By that time Diego will be 13, Natalie will be 15 and Miro will be 26. Bill will be 58 and I will be 47. I am sure that we will have lots of things to celebrate in the future but the most important thing is that we are all together as a family right now, loving each other and supporting each other.

Now I need to go ahead and start this Monday with the best state of mind possible. This week is important, there will be a lot going on about Diego and his future.
I wish you a great week full of positive things!

Elsita :)

Some Story from 2001.

I mentioned Harrison Ford in my last post and today I will be telling you the story about the circumstances in which I first met him in person.

It was was September 11 of 2001. Do you remember what happened that sad day in New York? Exactly, the tragedy with the Twin Towers. Bill and I were in New York that day because he had some work to do over there but also a few days later I was supposed to have the opening of my solo show "Vulnerable" (that was the title) at Phyllis Kind Gallery in Soho. That day In the morning Bill went out early for a meeting. Then I decided to have breakfast by myself at the hotel so I left the room and a few seconds later I found myself in the elevator with Harrison Ford and his Assistant!! It was sooo surreal! But at the same time it was so natural and normal because after all we were just three people taking the elevator. Before I left the room I remember getting a call from my Mom asking if I was OK and she said that something terrible had happened in New York, like a huge accident with a plane... I wasn't still aware of what had really happened but as always I took my camera planning to go out after breakfast in order to take some pictures of the city.
But as soon as I got to the lobby of the hotel I realized that something was definitely wrong because everybody was talking fast and loud and some women were crying and they were talking about the accident that my Mom had mentioned on the phone a few minutes ago. In the end I didn't have any breakfast and instead I walked close to the place where the "accident" had happened and took these pictures that you see below:


What a day! Everything was so confusing. It took me hours to understand what was going on. I went back to the hotel and everybody was in the lobby talking and trying to process what had just happened. Then I saw Bill who was concerned looking for me. I was relieved to know that he was OK too because his metting was very close to the World Trade Center. Then somehow he ended up talking with Harrison Ford. I didn't know that they knew each other and then I was formally introduced to him and his assistant who was a super nice young woman. To make the story short I will tell you that that night Harrison Ford, his assistant and two more people plus Bill and I had dinner close to the hotel and everything was so strange. The streets of Soho were empty and many restaurants were closed. It didn't look like New York at all. The dinner was nice and since everybody was talking about the tragedy Harrison Ford became one more in the group (he is a very down to earth person). It was amazing the way everybody was connected to each other through what had just happened. On our way back to the hotel some homeless man asked us for money and I remember that Harrison Ford gave him a couple of dollars and the man was happy. Then at the hotel we spent some time in the lobby where I had a little conversation with Harrison Ford about Cuba. He asked me about Havana and he said that he really wanted to visit the island sometime in the future. I really enjoyed the conversation and his calm personality. That was one of the most surreal days of my life that I will never forget.

And one of the most interesting things that I remember from that time is that the day before on September 10 I visited the Twin Towers for the first time with a friend of mine. We had some tea outside in a place from where you could see the towers and as I was trying to explain my friend about the idea behind my show "Vulnerable" I said: Think that nothing is permanent. For example you and I are here right now but one day we won't be here at all so our time to do what we want to do is limited... And I remember that he said: Well, look at those towers up there, one day we are going to die and they will still be there, it is incredible how small and fragile we are compared to those towers! And you know the rest of the story; next day the twin towers weren't there anymore. On September 11 I really understood how vulnerable we and everything around us is. Since that day I learned how to appreciate those little special moments in my life even more that's why I will always treasure that dinner with Harrison Ford that night. Seeing him again last Saturday made me think about September 11 again. I felt sad for the thousands of people that lost relatives, friends, co-workers etc. in that tragedy and somehow I felt lucky because I am still here.


This is one of my pieces from the show "Vulnerable" that I mentioned before. And because I am still alive I try to take advantage of every second in my life. Everyday is a race with so many things to do but I always do the best I can to dedicate a few minutes to the things that I enjoy doing like keeping the communication with you through this blog and creating new things with my hands. I feel really lucky that I can walk and talk and create and as long as I am alive I don't want to stop doing it.
Long live life!!!!
Elsita :)




Here is another tiny piece of my past for you. In this picture you can see my hair and I in my studio in Havana. These group of small photos that I arranged together as a montage were taken in 1998 by a young photographer friend of mine. He used black and white film and he developed them with his own hands. I am so glad that I found them so you can see more or less how my world looked like back then. By this time my career was starting to take off and I had a more solid connection with some galleries in Havana and out of Cuba so I worked in my art day and night, that's all I did.

I adored this studio (which was one of the two bedrooms that I had in my apartment) and as dark as it looks I always kept it clean and organized. I look at all the objects in it and I see so much; every single thing in that room has some story behind. The dress that I am wearing for example was made by myself out of some old cotton sheet. The chair where I am sitting on and the one in front of me were part of a set of six that I bought from a lady who lived close by and they were kind of dynamic because the joints were ready to fall apart. The head behind me is a wooden sculpture that I bought from some man on the street. Now between the two tables and close to the wooden head you can see the biggest luxury that I ever had in Cuba: AN AIR CONDITIONING MACHINE!!! It made a funny noise which is impossible to see in the picture as well as the noise from my neighbor’s apartment who had hundreds of birds (the ones that sing all day long) on top of that add some radio playing Cuban Music and now the picture is complete! I also had a wonderful balcony with lots of plants that I watered every morning. And I loved my neighbors! One of my favorite ones was this old actress who was a celebrity in Cuba before the revolution. Her apartment was full of black and white photographs from when she was famous, she was really beautiful. And there was also her very old husband who was always flirting with the young ladies in the building. He was so funny!

What I am making with my hands in this picture is an installation called: Impermanent. The piece was basically a group one hundred black dolls that had roots instead of heads and they were displayed on the wall upside down like little trees. Down here you can see a drawing based on that installation. With these dolls-trees I was talking about how memories (like plants) grow roots in our minds that keep us alive and make us be what we are. Now many years later I am even more sure about this idea. I realize that I am an accumulations of memories and without them I don’t fully exist. I was reading about amnesia the other day and about how people suffering from this condition struggle trying to make sense of who they are. I am lucky that I have a good memory and that I can remember all the details from my past. I wil never take my memory for granted, that's why I try to make use of it as often as possible.


Plant a New Idea.


I remember every detail about my first day as an Art Teacher (I was nineteen).
My first lesson was called Self-Portrait. We didn't have lots of materials to work with so I had to come out with some practical idea. I told my students (ages twelve to thirteen) that we were visiting a special place where they were going to find all the materials that they needed for making a self-portrait. So we made a trip to some huge pile of trash close to the school. The idea was for each one of them to find an unexpected object that they felt some kind of connection with and then somehow during the weekend they had to make their self-portrait out of that object.

The results were amazing. One of the most remarkable self-portraits came out from this quiet girl. When it was her turn to explain her self-portrait she gave me a book and she said: that's me and what I found in the trash pile is inside the book. So after turning the pages I found this beautiful dry leaf. She said something like: I am like that dry leaf because at first you don't notice me but if you turn the pages you will see that I exist.

This illustration that you see here with the girl was inspired by my memory of this student.

I think that inspiration is everywhere and it is connected to curiosity. When we plant the seed of curiosity many ideas will come to us. Ideas are infinite and they reproduce fast as long as we keep feeding them. And in order to feed them we have to be curious, we have to notice the world around us. That's one of the best lessons that I learned from my students. They taught me how to see "dry leafs hidden in books" :)