"De Palo Pa' Rumba:" an Interview with Leandro Soto1
Borland, Isabel Álvarez, Afro - Hispanic Review
Leandro Soto has been involved in the art world for the past thirty years, participating in well over a hundred solo and group art exhibitions at both die national and international levels. He currently teaches and works in die Interdisciplinary Arts and Performance Department, Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona. This interview was took place in April 2007.
Isabel Álvarez Borland: Tell us about your beginnings as an artist in the Cuba of the 70s and 80s. What was the importance of Volumen Uno, the group of visual artists to which you belonged?
Leandro Soto: Volumen Uno was a very important exhibit that took place in Havana in 1981, at the Galería de Arte San Rafael, Centro Habana. The art pieces we exhibited created a lot of controversial discussion at the national and international level. The show was very successful and was visited by thousands of people. Eleven artists participated in the event: José Bedía, Juan Francisco Elso Padilla, José Manuel Fors, Flavio Garciandía, Israel León, Rogelio López Marín Gory, Gustavo Pérez Monzón, Ricardo Rodríguez Brey, Tomás Sánchez, Rubén Torres Llorca, and myself. The majority of us in the group were recent graduates from ENA (National School of Arts, in Cubanacán) and the San Alejandro Art School. We were extremely disappointed with what was happening at the time in the professional art scene. We were also the first generation totally educated under the "new revolutionary system." Our attitude and opinions were perceived as "bad boy behavior" by artists of previous generations. We were the first group of artists that used our own spaces - studios and residences - as space for our shows. We used parties, group trips, and any vacation time to create art events with the purpose of sharing ideas, concepts and opinions about out work and to share the meaning and significance of what it meant to be an artist in Cuba at that particular time.
IÁB: Was your art ever compromised in Cuba due to political reasons?
LS: I was one of the first artists in my generation to deal with social and political issues in my art. I did an exhibition in Galería Habana, in 1986, named: This Is Hon/ It Is. In this show, 1 made 365 comics (one for each day in a year) where I questioned different situations from every day life in the Cuba of the 1980s. I was also the first Cuban artist that assumed performance and installation art work as a personal expression. Also, 1 was an avid participant in a variety of art disciplines as well as in literary activities at that time: theater, movies, dance, and interdisciplinary experimental art.
IÁB: Were you affected by the restrictions imposed on artists during the 1990s economic crisis known as die Período Especial?
LS: I did not live in Cuba during the years of the Período Especial. I had left Cuba in 1988 for Mexico, disappointed and disillusioned with cultural politics. Mexico was a cultural and political exile for me and, at the same time, a new artistic journey. There, I learned the language of the native indigenous people, native dances, theater, mask work, and other artistic expressions. After visiting and working with indigenous communities, I created my own art school in the village of Tamulte de las Sabanas in Tabasco, a native Chontal community. There, I was free to experiment with Non-Western visions of reality and finally became free of "ideological Marxist limitations." At that time, I was ready to question "ready-made" ideological solutions for reality.
IÁB: As your many exhibits indicate, you have resided in various places around the world and have incorporated the traditions of these countries and cultures into the work you were doing at the time. How would you describe the thematic/aesthetic path your work has taken in terms of these multiple residences?
LS: I have developed various paths through my artistic vocation. I consider myself an interdisciplinary artist who expresses himself through various media and art forms: theater, performance art, and visual arts. …