The Cuban painter and printmaker Lesbia Vent Dumois has won Cuba’s most prestigious annual visual art award for the year 2019. The decision to honour Lesbia with this important national award among 14 nominees was a unanimous decision of a jury composed of seven distinguished critics and artists. It took into account the many roles she has in all spheres of art, but the meeting at the National Council of Visual Arts that announced the winner in December, highlighted the value of her work as speaking ‘with the past from evocation and nostalgia, with precise execution and delicate lyricism’.
The prize will be presented at Havana’s National Museum of Fine Arts in January. Lesbia is the second woman to receive the highest recognition granted annually by the National Council of Visual Arts since it was instituted in 1994. Rita Longa previously received it in 1995, a unique occasion where it was shared with the sculptor Agustín Cárdenas.
Born in 1932, Lesbia’s early artistic life began as a student at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas “Leopoldo Romañach,” in Santa Clara, where she learned woodcut techniques. In 1961 she studied lithography in Prague on a UNESCO fellowship. Upon her return to Havana, her work revealed a passionate interest in the emancipation of women, sometimes painting in a colourful, bold, expressionist style with humour and satire. As Lourdes Prieto, a filmmaker documenting the life of the artist put it, “Lesbia,” she said, opened “a dream world that unfolded before my eyes, a personal mythology, where all sorts of angels and fantastic characters reveal an exuberant imagination”.
Throughout her long career in the visual arts Lesbia has played a leading role in many fields and has won numerous awards and distinctions. Since the early days of the revolution in 1959, Lesbia has been part of the vanguard of the island’s cultural life in the visual arts as an artist, curator, teacher and gallerist. She has served on numerous juries in national and international events. She is a founding member and since 1993, the president of the visual arts section of the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC). One of her most important achievements was as Director (1980-1993) of the art collection at Casa de las Americas, a prestigious institution established by the revolution to develop cultural relations throughout Latin America.
Her creativity spans engraving, painting, lithography, sculpture and drawing but in more recent years, Lesbia has explored techniques associated with the occupation of her mother who was a seamstress, to tell historical stories. Using textiles, stitching and buttons, her work has been described as ‘a spontaneous reflection of a cluster of practices, customs, culture and stories’ with a universal meaning which is ‘alien to gender, trends or fashion’.
She is also one of Cuba’s foremost ambassadors of the visual arts, promoting Cuban art and representing the island in countless international cultural forums. In 2012, Lesbia toured Britain in association with the exhibition Beyond the Frame, organised by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in support of the cause of the Cuban Five and some of her work was shown in London at the group show Presente! Contemporary Cuban Art in 2016.
Lesbia has been part of the vanguard of the island’s cultural life in the visual arts as an artist, teacher and gallerist from the early days of the revolution in 1959.
By Dr Doreen Weppler-Grogan for Cuba50
Watch a short interview on youtube with Lesbia about her work in 2016 – with English subtitles