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Painting the Cuban paradox

Painting the Cuban paradox
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The Cuban flag revisited is one of the latest themes in artist Michel Mirabal’s body of work.

The Cuban painter is among the best known of his generation, and spoke to us from his studio in Havana as he showed off some of his work.

“I deal with the present day problems in Cuba through the flag. This canvas is called Hurricane, it is a Cuban flag with barbed wire, the hurricane takes away everything, it takes away rice – it is real rice. The flagpole bends in the force of the wind. Because in our Cuba there is an official way – and also an unofficial way, which is just as important as the official way. For example, the amount of food given each month is not enough and to supplement our needs, we buy what we need on the black market,” Mirabal told euronews.

Whether it is flags or the streets of Havana, Mirabal uses symbolism to speak out against the suffering in Cuba but also to affirm his love for his country.

“It is a picture which is very significant for me. These are Cuban flags, with barbed wire and flowers. The flowers represent the good things and the barbed wire the bad. So like all countries, our country has both good and bad,” he said.

Dissenting and patriotic, the artist has escaped censorship and has seen his popularity rise both at home and abroad.

A familiar face at the contemporary arts biennial in Havana, Mirabal also exhibits his work abroad.

The centre for Cuban studies in New York will display his pieces this year.

He spoke to us about the wealth his art has brought: “I have made a social compromise with my country. It is perfect. I can live in Cuba at the moment like a millionaire in whatever country. For example, this type of work I sell for 10,000 or 15,000 euros. I have a good market. I have the opportunity to live very well in Cuba. I have three houses, I have a studio, I have a nice car but material things do not change the reality.”

That reality he paints as potentially explosive in another series.

“It is a bomb. A time-bomb. As you can see it is made of nails and the end of the fuse is also made of nails. It is a time-bomb which when it explodes will cause an enormous amount of damage.

“So on the path from here to here, they are opening gaps, inserting freedoms. Because the people are tired. They want to have the liberty they do not have. So I think it is the moment to free things. Because we can’t swim against the tide,” he concluded.