In Cuba, Glenda Salazar (Holguín, 1982) is one of the most outstanding creators of Land Art or Arte Natura, a kind of subgenre of conceptual art, whose works are characterized by their ephemeral nature and being made with natural elements.
She has also been an outstanding activist in terms of caring for the environment, leading projects such as the so-called Black Line for several years, which emerged in 2008 as a result of the oil pipeline leak[due to hurricane damage] in the Bacunayagua river area, northern Matanzas province.
Graduated from the University of the arts (ISA) and currently a professor of Photography there, she has shown in twenty exhibitions in various countries, solo and collectively. Her works are in collections in the United States, Spain and Cuba.
On the eve of celebrating World Environment Day on June 5, she was interviewed by Cubarte Blog.
From the early 2000s, when young artists had much less access to galleries in Cuba, you found a space, in what became known as “guerrilla interventions”, placing your sculptures and installations in numerous natural sites in the country.
More than a decade later and when you have already exhibited in the major galleries on the island, including the National Museum of Fine Arts, what is left of your artistic work from that period?
“In my work there has always been a connection, a structure of going to natural spaces, of using nature.
I think it is something that is still present in the moment of making my works; concepts like communication and connection. When we go to these places there are a series of approaches that we consider and respond to, precisely because we are in those natural places.
Currently my works are a bit more focused on how that same nature generates a space for dialogue with viewers, making them participate. Although at the beginning, when I was making mandalas [circular patterns from nature], stupas [indigenous burial mounds or objects] and the texts that I left in places, it was something more personal, my own communicative process and of my work with natural spaces. Now the spectator of that work becomes an important part, generating specific actions depending on the project, as in ‘Border’, where the concepts of identity were explored using indigenous seeds.
But when you look at each of the works there is always that natural element that is a catalyst for action; that generates a change and that is something that interests me a lot in my works: that they are not just visual metaphors, but also generate a change in reality. That for me is essential.
Last February your work was exhibited at ZONA MACO PHOTO in Mexico. What did that experience give you?
“For a Latin American and, in my case, Cuban artist, participating in Zona Maco is very important because it is one of the fairs with the greatest impact in this part of the world.
As artists we have Biennials and Fairs to make our art visible, not only for the people who attend these events to see art and buy it; but also through virtual platforms which, in Maco’s case, is very large. During the Fair, there are many eyes trying to discover artists; to see what is happening in contemporary art and that is essential, since one makes art so that people interact with it, not to save it. And it is even more important in an event like Maco Foto that is quite demanding. The criteria for the photography selection is fairly strong so it is wonderful to be able to participate.”
‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ (‘Lo que no te mata te fortalice’) is the title of a series of works, the title of your show at ARTIS718 gallery, Havana, in January 2019, but also summarizes some of your ideas [as an artist]. To what extent do you think humanity can emerge stronger from an event like Covid-19?
‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ is one of my favourite series that has brought me many joys. It is a work that in 2017 was at MOLAA, in Los Angeles, and toured the United States for two years, passing through the best museums in that country, as part of the ‘Relational Undercurrents’ macro exhibition that at that time was dedicated to Caribbean artists.
It is a series that, like almost all of my series of works, remains open over time because I work on it alongside others. Giving that title to the exhibition was a kind of closure of certain concepts in the exhibition. I was very happy because I was able to show several pieces that people had seen separately and that now appeared after a museum and curatorial process that gave them another reading.
The series ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ was there, with the flowers [the artist engraved text on petals of flowers still left to grow in their environment and photographed them]. There was also my ‘Renovation’ project that began after Cyclone Irma, that affected not only people, but also nature. The project was, at first, a kind of inventory of the disaster starting with the branches and leaves of the damaged trees; later it became a botanical study of them and, finally, new planting of many of these species.
My ‘Border’ project, which is a larger study of plants which grow only in particular parts of our country, was also included in the show; as well as the piece ‘Exchange’ which was of a more participatory nature.
The title ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ has to do with all this that is happening. It is an accumulation of experiences that, I am sure, will mark our lives in several ways; from subtle changes, such as all the hygiene protocols that must be respected now, to others much stronger, such as physical distance from the people you love.
I think all this time being at home makes you revisit many things from the back of your mind and also seek to be sustainable, trying to get the most out of what you have. Right now it is essential not to waste; be more aware about recycling. You make more use of the products you have at home, everything can have a second life, a third and a fourth.
Fortunately, these were things that we already knew need to be done, but have become more evident today. There is a very high degree of consumerism and I think that now, when the whole world is stopped, people are realising better to what extent we affect natural spaces when usually we do not notice. That is very positive.”
You have declared your interest in communication and the connection of people with their environment. Both have varied greatly in recent months and everything indicates that this will continue, somehow, in the future. How do you think this situation influences art, in general and your work in particular?
“This period has also been one of learning for me. I have come back to one of the ideas that I had before the pandemic, which is related to medicinal plants. I am currently doing research and taking photos.
While we are in a situation like now, in which a microscopic virus changes our lives and generates a rather aggressive disease, it is logical to think of those plants that one inherited from the memory of grandparents or parents and also in trying to grow them at home, something that has taken up a bit of my time under quarantine.”
What artistic project were you working on at the time Covid-19 arrived in Cuba? How has this era of social distancing influenced your creativity? How have you used it?
“Currently in the exhibition ‘Havana: images from five centuries’, which opened last December at the National Museum of Fine Arts, I still have my ‘Caja Fuerte’ project (‘Strong Box’ project). It is a living work; a greenhouse that has plants so I have gone to the museum each week to water them, clean them, fertilize the soil. It is a greenhouse, but it needs to be tended.
In addition, as part of the display, we were going to hold a discussion event there that in the end could not happen due to the pandemic. Fortunately, the show has been visualized through social networks, which is one of the ways through which everything is moving now and I think they will also offer a tour of the exhibition on television.
I have had other projects for exhibitions and participation in some fairs. But, well, now is a time to focus on what we can do, not what we ought to do. I really like to focus on the present and it seems healthier to see it from that point of view.
As a professor at the ISA I was ahead with my classes, but there are some that I have to give even on WhatsApp and on social networks; sending information to students and also reviewing their work. Logically, the structure of the classes must be changed. It is not a face-to-face class, often it is information I send them, tests that they have to do.
It is another way of teaching and I think that it can help a lot when things return to the new normal; that you do not necessarily always have to be present, although there are classes in which the presence of the students and the teacher is essential because there are things that need to be shown, spoken, exemplified and, unfortunately, we do not have the resources to do video conferencing.
The other time at home is for making. You spend time working, dedicating yourself to family. These times, when you are with family, are quality times. There is no longer such a rush to go somewhere and that’s also a very nice thing; just like reading, listening to music. In this time, art has been vital for so many people.”
Translation by Cuba50
See video images of Glenda’s work here