Art + Design  17 January 2019

The Historian of the Lion

Manuel Mendive is one of the most prominent living Cuban artists, known for his paintings, sculptures, installations and performance/body work. Mendive draws upon his Afro-Cuban heritage, the imagery and rituals of Santería, Yoruba and Voodoo religions and the history of the African diaspora to re-frame and celebrate the stories and people of Cuba. His inter-disciplinary practice fuses performance, dance, religion and ethnography, creating lyrical, powerful work out of these interconnected mediums. Similarly, Mendive's paintings are mostly on a flat, equitable plane, where earth, animals and humans, sky and ground, are not separate, but exist intertwined with one another. 

In 2018, Mendive had his first New York solo show, Nature, Spirit and Body at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Curator Christine Licata quoted a famous Yoruba saying in reference to Mendive's work: "Until the lion gets a historian, the hunter will always be the hero. For me, Mendive is the historian for the lion—and for the cradle of civilization that is Africa."

Earth is all the beauty that surrounds us, that feeds us and helps us to exist and we are present in it...I'm exploring the complexity of nature that is so interesting to me. The green is so pretty and the trees are beautiful and the birds that fly are beautiful too. In short, life is very beautiful. 

Manuel Mendive

Manuel Mendive b. 1944

Manuel Mendive is one of the leading contemporary Cuban artists, blending mythology, history, ethnography and religion to share the stories of the African diaspora. Mendive works in various mediums, including performance, dance, painting, sculpture, photography and immersive installations. 

Mendive was born in Luyanó, Cuba in 1944 into a family that practiced Santería, which he still follows, incorporating its rituals and imagery into his work. He graduated from San Alejandro Academy of Plastic Arts in Havana in 1962 and had his first solo show at the Havana Art Center in 1964, with a showcase of his work at the Venice Biennial in 1968.

Beginning in the 1970s, Yoruban and Voodoo mythology and imagery, as well as direct references to the history of slavery and his African heritage, began figuring prominently in his work. His multi-media approach was taken further throughout the 1980s and 1990s, incorporating altars, dances, masks and performances after his first visit to West Africa in 1982.

In 2018, Mendive had his first solo show, Nature, Spirit and Body, in New York at the Bronx Museum of Art. He has received prestigious honors such as the National Prize for the Arts in Cuba (2001) and the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres from the Minister of Culture of the French Republic (1994). Mendive's work is represented in institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, Paris, the National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana and the Ethnographic Museum of Budapest; he continues to live and work in San Jose de la Lagas, Cuba.


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