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50 Years / 50 Artworks

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People and Places



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Mario Agusto Garcia Portela
(Cuban, b. 1942)
El Autor y su Obra (The Artist and His Work)
ink and photographs on illustration board,
20" x 26 1/2"
Gift of the Artist

As he sits on a garbage heap with head in hand, Cuban artist Mario Portela intends this autobiographical image to underscore his belief that the real work of the artist is that of wresting and constructing meaning from the confusion and detritus of everyday life and experience. His technique of merging precise monochromatic ink drawings with black and white or sepia toned photographs also alludes to the artist’s role as a mediator between fact and fiction, and between history and contemporary life. It is indeed difficult to tell where his accomplished drawing leaves off and the photograph begins. Their monochromatic palette and references to the poverty of rural Cuban society lends them an air of nostalgia, as if Portela’s scenes were frozen in time or memory. Critical references to the intrusion of American consumerism – in the forms of pizza boxes, soft drink cups and discarded shopping bags – often dot Portela’s landscapes as well.
The acquisition by the Tweed Museum of Art of works by Mario Portela and several other Cuban artists resulted from a series of cultural exchanges organized between 1995 and 1998 by the museum and a host of other community groups, in collaboration with the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, headquartered in Pinar del Rio. For the Cuban participants, these exhibition exchanges offered a first opportunity to exhibit their work in the U.S. Likewise, a group of artists from northern Minnesota and Wisconsin participated in exhibitions and cultural visits in Cuba.

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