An artist carves the lives of Cubans

By Yingzi Dong, Havana, Cuba, 2018

He sat just behind the door, the light was white and the sunshine warm. There was a picture of an old man lying on a wooden table. Lazaro Niebla is carving its shape into a recycled wooden panel.

Niebla, 43, was born in Cienfuegos but came to Trinidad to study art. He has three daughters, a wife and an art gallery in one of the oldest cities on the Island. With his bas-reliefs he tries to keep a record of Cuban life in the countryside, while helping some of his friends in need.

“I do the pictures as spontaneous as possible and create a relation with them; I’m trying to make them as natural possible,” Niebla said.

Before Niebla opened his gallery, he was a sculpting teacher in Trinidad. Supply shortages made it hard to access materials during the special period, after the USSR dissolved and its economic support to the island vanished. Niebla had to save money for over ten years by selling ceramics to be able to buy his own place.

“When I left school, it was a romantic period, everyone had that spirit about art and making thing that were beautiful without thinking of the market,” Niebla said. “I tried to keep that spirit during the 90’s when there was not tourism.”

However, “there is no arts market in Cuba,” Niebla said. In order to make money for his family, Niebla had to start selling his works to the tourists. “Now I commercialize my work, but I try to be as sincere as possible.”

Three years ago, Mariesa Sun-Saenz, the member of the US Cuba artists exchange organization and now the Niebla’s manager decided to offer some help. She started to sell Niebla’s art and hold exhibitions in the United States.

“He is humble, very thoughtful, quiet observant, very interested to giving back to the community, and helping other people,” Sun-Saenz said. “An good example of essentially becoming almost like a middle-class Cuban and not forgetting where they came from.”

Lazaro Niebla’s works range from $1200-$15000. At that price point, he is able to keep doing his works while helping his family and some friends get by. His next exhibition will be in July in Los Angeles.


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