The National Museum of Contemporary Cuban Ceramics has acted as important center presenting in its collection the overview of this discipline in the country. The work it has displayed in exhibitions and dissemination trough several activities, particularly the Biennials of Ceramics (1) has enabled the approach of a considerable group of creators for whom clay is a means of expression of their diverse technical and conceptual concerns.
The regular celebration of that event, which since 1990 intends to present the most representative figures in this activity throughout the island, always entails a challenge when preparing each call. Characteristic of this contest is the effort to avoid restricting the work with severe measures, demanding creative languages, themes or other aspects such as academic studies of the authors. Although the small format was predominant in the initial years, with the passing of time thought has been given to extend the dimensions and types in the contest. Today, sculptures, installations, projects are taken into consideration as well as pots, mural and tiles.
In its December 2016 edition, held at the Spanish-American Cultural Center, a diversity of works participated with predominance of sculptures and installations. Artists with academic training in visual arts and other non-professionals of different generations or promotions and distinctive forms of work in the discipline made up the long list of participants.(2)
[…] Teresa Sánchez, trained at the Art Institute of Berlin-Weissensee in the specialty of ceramic sculpture has been extremely versatile in her approach to different languages: figuration, expressionism, and partial abstraction, since at least one figurative element is to be found in midst of shapeless motifs. The ceramic proposal has shared the stage with other artistic forms such as drawing, and with industrial materials. From the thematic point of view she has broached different issues related to the Cuban context, but also of universal scope.
A feature inherent to a significant part of her work is already noticeable in her initial works: the aggressiveness in the formation of the clay structures, which are solved in an extremely grotesque way. She repeats this aesthetics in “Anasirma”, an inverted bust or torso of smooth, white surface, on which the rest of the volume with protruding limbs and outstanding spine has been placed with marked contrast between the brilliant enamels and the rough treatment of some areas, emphatically exhibiting the feminine genitals. This last element is presented to be consequent with the identification, another important element of her work as means to articulate an idea, but which in turn may delay the possible interpretations. That is due to the ambiguity of the chosen terms, since in certain cases they contradict the representation itself or have diverse meanings according to their language of origin.
In turn, Alejandro Cordovés, from the Ceramics Workshop of the Higher Institute of Art has been gradually specifying his ideo-aesthetic interests. To be highlighted in “Laika Meets Yuri” is the coherent incorporation of dissimilar mechanical elements – with his usual material technique – to the red clay rocket identified as Sputnik 2, transporting the well-known pet to the outer space. Another aspect that distinguishes his activity is that evident horror vacui achieved through the well justified variegation of elements in terms of composition. In this case the leading character shows a gay expression that, naturally, opposes the reality of the event. This proposal brings the author ever nearer to a line in which he intends to delve deeply, given the possibilities of history as humanistic discipline when constructing discourses from art. In addition, it offers a particular vision of a sensible theme of universal history by introducing a certain humor as efficient communicational strategy.
Outstanding in the exhibited ensemble was also the presence of the Yeti Project members, a group of creator who practice this art form with advisory from the renowned ceramist Agustín Villafaña. Among the pieces they presented was “An Island of the Caribbean”, by Mercedes Peñalver and Marla C. Hernández, a cylindrical structure with irregular ceramic fragments that portray the identifying icons of our island. There is a correct use of varied enamels that exemplify the freshness of this Caribbean land. Although the theme appears repeatedly in Cuban visual arts, its objectification personalizes it, making it interesting. Another participant, Katherine Hechevarría, made a human figure in an insinuated meditation posture, as reflected by his glance and the face in general. With this piece the artist has found a way to deepen into the individual’s conflicts, associated to the emotional aspect, a criterion sustained in its title, “Without Any Fear”.
Regarding the work of Beatriz Sala Santacana, it should be noted that she has succeeded in creating a distinctive seal. Her usual characters have no defined facial features, nor are they the result of a detailed study in terms of anatomy, because it is their actions that are most significant for the author. This is evidenced in “Piñata”, a colorful group of individuals whose raised hands reach a small boat that should contain the awaited candy. This simple and direct piece in tis possible messages evidences the coherent interweaving between ceramics and metal, which not only explains the solidity attained in the technical aspect but how it contributes to reinforce the theme.
Tomás Núñez (Jhony) approaches ceramics as medium and not as an end; so is it explained by his characteristic altars and murals. Then paintings of different sizes to which he added small fragments of the most varied materials and the container of a crystallized substance on top of a classic column form the installation “Alquimia”. All these apparently unrelated objects create an attractive image. With this piece, Jhony has employed his habitual post-modern strategy regarding the reuse and reconceptualization of daily elements, which he transforms and loads with new contents. […]
 Two contests are celebrated alternatively, one dedicated to sculptures, installations and projects, and the other to pots and panels. Both allow artists from diverse regions of the country to present their works and receive awards when their work deserves it.
 On this occasion, the jury (made up by Alejandro G. Alonso, director of the National Museum of Contemporary Cuban Ceramics; Ioán Carratalá Corrales, ceramist who won the Scholarship of Creation prize in the event of 2014; Margarita González Lorente, assistant director of Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center; and Teresita Huerta Lozada, journalist who specializes in cultural themes), decided to grant the following prizes: Honorable mentions to “Sin miedo a nada” (Without Any Fear), by Katherine Hechevarría and “Una isla del Caribe” (An Island of the Caribbean), by Mercedes Peñalver and Marla C. Special prizes to “Laika conoce a Yuri” (Laika Meets Yuri), by Alejandro Cordovés, and “Piñata”, by Beatriz Sala Santacana. The prize to the First Work was given to “Sin título” (Untitled), by Carlos Arístides medina. The Alfredo Sosabravo prize was won by “Alquimia” (Alchemy), by Tomás Núñez (Johny) and the Creative Scholarship financed by the National Council for Visual Arts (CNAP) was awarded to “La equilibrista” (The Tightrope Walker), by Martha Jiménez.
Published in Artecubano magazine of Visual Arts, No. 04 2016. Pg. 38.
More about the author in her blog on Cuban ceramics.