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Cuba Interview1

Curator talks about upcoming exhibition on Cuban art

Alexis Terrazas El Tecolote, Editor-in-Chief

Latina’s new exhibition—¡Cuba Libre! – An Exhibition of Cuban and American Ceramics, Prints & Photographs—will feature the work of eight of Cuba’s most renowned artists including: Alberto Lescay, Antonio Lewis, Israel Tamayo, Jose Luis Berenguer, Jose Vasquez Xene, Nelson Dominguez, Xiomara Gutierrez and Raul Miranda, as well as work by artists Catherine Merrill, Ana Maria Cardenas, Gary Erickson, Joel Bennett and Juan Pablo Cardenas. The show, which debuts Jan. 16 at the Juan R. Fuentes Gallery, will be curated by “the foremost U.S. authority on contemporary Cuban ceramics,” artist Catherine Merrill. El Tecolote sat down with Merrill to discuss the details.

How many art pieces will be in the exhibition?

I have 25 pieces of Cuban art in the show. There are eight Cuban artists, and I wanted each person to be able to show at least a couple of pieces. You get a much better sense of a person if you can see two pieces. The only one I don’t have two pieces of is Xene, but it’s a multi-piece wall ceramic.

Can you talk about some of the pieces?

I have two Alberto Lescay prints of the same size, one is called “Viaje luz,” (Voyage of light)…and in that one there’s a sense of hope. The “Cimarrón” (runaway Cuban slaves) was done in 2005. That was a year when things got way, way worse with the Bush administration. Lescay said, “We are all Cimarrónes, who are still trying to fight for our freedom.” Another is a print by Nelson Dominguez called “Mujer con abanico.” And I have two large prints by Israel Tamayo, one of them called “Travesuras.” And the wall piece by Jose Vasquez Xene is called “Las Mujeres.” It’s an amazing piece; he created it in Canada after bringing all of these little molds from Cuba. There are four panels and a center panel is a bleeding heart, and it’s dedicated to the victims of 9-11. And the last piece of Cuban art that I think is so important is by Xiomara Gutierrez. Her piece is “Reflejo de la naturaleza.” A theme in her art is ecology, and how man has a negative effect on our environment.

Will the displayed pieces be up for sale?

Most of them [will]. Some of the pieces have been given to me as gifts, and I just wouldn’t feel the same without them. But the majority I’ve also been given on consignment by the artists to exhibit.

How did you come to be the curator of Cuba Libre?

In 2009, it was the pinnacle of my career with Cuba, with three very important shows in the Boston area: Fuller Craft, MassART and the Laconia Gallery. Earlier this year, I went back east to a family reunion, and my sister arranged a meeting with the current director of the Fuller Craft Museum, Jonathan Fairbanks. A month later in July we started getting these exciting notices about Obama opening diplomatic relations. So I thought this is the time to have another Cuba show in San Francisco—my last and only “Beyond the Embargo” show in San Francisco was in 2006.

Cuba Interview1

From 2002-2009, you’ve traveled extensively to and from Cuba. When did you first visit the island?

I’m somebody that came of age during the ‘60s. It was a climate where art and politics were totally mixed up. And friends of mine from Harvard were organizing what turned out to be the second trip to Cuba in 1965 to protest the travel ban. And I thought, “Well that sounds exciting. I guess I’ll go along.” And it was life changing. It was one of those experiences where you step from one world into another. It was very Soviet dominated … but there was this total freedom. There was this discovery and freedom and art was so wrapped up to it. The Cubans have always been so experimental in the arts, so free, so bold, and of such high quality. Given all of these hardships, they’re the best at everything. The quality of art was so impressive.

How is the show being received by the Cuban artists?

I was so lucky, I was able to work with the top artists in the country. And it was an incredible opportunity. One of the gifts of doing this show, is realizing how much I was appreciated. In (one) published Cuban article—it makes me cry—they called me “Querida incansable.” It was very, very moving. Israel Tamayo, he’s not a fuzzy person. He sent me two emails that basically said, “Now everybody wants to be on the Cuban bandwagon, everybody wants to work with Cuban artists, we’re inundated. You however were traveling all of these years, ‘desafiando su gobierno,’ and what sets us apart is that we are continuing what we’ve already done, and what we’ve been doing.”

¡Cuba Libre!


Presentation of Gifts by Gino Mazzatti at the Taller Cultural in Santiago de Cuba, March 2016 CUBA LIBRE! Exhibiting Artists in Photo: Israel Tamayo (L) and Xiomara Gutierrez (R).

Click here to see the full article on El Tecolote's wesbsite.


Recent Exhibitions:
¡Cuba Libre! - An Exhibition of Cuban and American Ceramics, Prints and Photographs

Credits: Xiomara Gutierrez, Reflejo de la Naturaleza
(terracotta platter with glazes & underglazes)

Exhibiting Artists:


Reception: January 16, 2016, 5PM - 8PM  

Where:  Juan R. Fuentes Gallery, 2958 24th Street (between Harrison and Alabama streets) 

Music: Batacha Quintet, Afro-Cuban Music

Panel: Cuba Por Adentro

Including Catherine Merrill, Joel Bennett, Anna Maria Cardenas & Juan Pablo Cardenas


January 16th to February 27th 2016

Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 11 AM-5 PM

2958 24th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110


Curated by Catherine Merrill, ¡Cuba Libre! - An Exhibition of Cuban and American Ceramics, Prints and Photographs will showcase the work of some of Cuba's most preeminent ceramic and print artists, as well as artists in the United States with whom they've had more than a decade-long intercultural exchange. The exhibition embodies two important themes: the inherent need to create art regardless of circumstances and the rewards that come from collaborating with artists of other cultures.


By working together, these artists have become ambassadors of good will, with the hope of fostering peace and understanding through the international language of art. Creating world-class art in all disciplines despite severe shortages of raw materials and equipment, these artists' resourcefulness demonstrates how art transcends political conflicts as a way to regenerate and heal.

Cuba Libre

About the Curator

Catherine Merrill is a ceramic artist who received the Jose Maria Heredia Medal of Honor for her contributions to Cuban ceramics. This is the highest arts award in the province of Santiago de Cuba. She has been described as "the foremost U.S. authority on contemporary Cuban ceramics." 


About the Juan R. Fuentes Gallery

Nestled in the heart of San Francisco's Latino Cultural District at 2958 24th Street, The Juan R. Fuentes Gallery seeks to showcase the work of artists whose work depicts the nuances of Latino life locally, nationally and internationally.

"Acción Latina plays an integral role in supporting the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, a culturally rich and vibrant commercial corridor. Through Mayor Lee's investment, Acción Latina will continue to be a place where important Latino stories can be shared to inform, educate, and inspire our communities," said Joaquin Torres, Director of Invest In Neighborhoods, an initiative of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

To learn more about Acción Latina visit

Recent Exhibitions: California Now: Juried Exhibition of Clay, Glass & Enamel Art

June 13 - August 21, 2015

Please click here to see more about Catherine's upcoming show California Now! at the Richmond Art Center.
ON THE EDGE 5, Erotic Photography and Sculpture Exhibition

February 2015
Location: SOMArts Cultural Center, San Francisco, CA 94103
The website,, has been updated to include all current exhibitors and includes photos from previous exhibitions, media articles and a Press Kit Page.

La Noche Ceramic wall piece (above) Glazes & Gold Luster

Height 28" Width 17" Depth 6" 

The wall piece "La Noche" is featured on the Erotic Art Events Facebook page.

Click Here for examples of the featured works of the show. 

ArtWorksDowntown Small Works Exhibit

November 21, 2014 to January 2, 2015

Juror: Alan Bamberger is an art consultant, advisor, author, appraiser and principal of the website He has written three books and numerous articles about how the art world works, has photographed and reviewed thousands of art openings and events mainly in San Francisco and the Bay Area, and has consulted and advised numerous artists on all aspects of their art and careers.

BIG IDEAS- 1950-1970: Influences in Modern Ceramics at the Sebastopol Center For the Arts

September to October 2014

Catherine is showing Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow, a life size portrait bust of her daughter, Bijou, influenced and inspired by Robert Arneson's California Artist.

The exhibition is curated by Robert Brent, Bill Geisinger, and Joel Bennett.

Catherine's Statement: Through the California Funk Movement in the 1960's, Robert Arneson influenced Contemporary American Ceramics to break out of the restrictive mold of functional pottery and figurines. When I moved to San Francisco from the Big Island of Hawaii in 1995, I saw Arneson's sculpture California Artist at SF MOMA, which influenced the piece I am showing in BIG IDEAS. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is a life size portrait bust of my daughter Bijou at 27. By capturing exactly the gesture and physical features of the model, I try to portray the inner essence and feelings of the person. The sculpture expresses her inward gaze from the perspective of the young woman she is in the present, reflecting back on memories of the girl she used to be and looking forward to the unknown future.

SCULPTURE! an Exhibition of Art by Pacific Rim Sculptors at the Richmond Art Center

June 14 - August 22nd, 2014

Juried exhibition celebrating works in a vast array of artistic styles and media by members of the Pacific Rim Sculptors Group. This grou, which was formed by six Bay Area artists in 1988, promotes artistic excellence and fosters the development of emerging sculptors. Juror John Toki is an internationally known sculptor, public artist, teacher, curator and author.

Catherine Merrill is exhibiting her ceramic sculpture, Bat Girl Standing on the Memory Tree, a life-size female torso on hand thrown and painted column in SCULPTURE! an Exhibition of Art by Pacific Rim Sculptors at the Richmond Art Center, 2245 Barrett Avenue, Richmond. The exhibition was juried by John Toki and runs June 14 - August 22nd, 2014. There will be a Closing Reception Friday August 22nd from 5-7 PM. There are several other important exhibitions at the Richmond Art Center at the same time, including the RAC a nnual Members Show and Ruth Braunstein: Focus on Clay, which includes works by Peter Voulkos, Robert Arneson and Richard Shaw.