Cuban-born and Bronx resident Alexis Mendoza is an interdisciplinary artist, independent curator, and author. He has organized unprecedented exhibits, introducing and championing some of the most exciting voices from NYC communities often marginalized or ignored by the mainstream. Alexis is a true maverick and a force to be reckoned with in contemporary art.
How do you describe your latest series of paintings?
My series of paintings is titled “Ilé Ife”, according to Yoruba tradition and the Lukumí language a big house, a vast land, is also the name of the land where the first man and the first human community were created, the cradle of humanity, the first dwelling of Orunmilá on earth, before moving his residence to Ado, and name of the land and of the empire that was manifested therein, located in the territory of present-day Nigeria. The color, as it turned out, is the matrix of memory, and within it, the images surface, utopias and its denials.
By radicalizing the object representation, presence lets us grasp time. I register this knowledge by depicting the mutual invasion of color and representation, in some sense have nothing to do with the way color behaves or represent itself in the shared world of experience.
Can you tell me about the use of the black line?
The black line is an element, a tool that I have been using for the last 20 years it’s a physical representation of what is call in the Briyumba Palo Monte religion, Rallado (Scratch). Every Initiated individual is scratch in various part of the body, sometimes with a blade and sometimes with a black charcoal. This method gives me the answer of one of the elements I was missing in my creative process.
As a result, I let color, hard dark lines, distance, desire the locus of the image and volume do the explanation, all these characteristics come together simultaneously, equally, and in terms of each other.
Who are your influences in both writing and painting?
Black Painting is the style and philosophy that I employ in my painting. The term was established in Cuba in the 1950’s by Guido Llinas, a prominent Cuban abstract painter, printmaker and member of the Eleven Group. A general characteristic of my Black Painting is the use of three predominant colors with emblematic function, as in Abakua drawing, where yellow signifies “life”, white “death”; or as in Santeria, where every Orisha is defined by a color. The work and techniques employed by Manuel Mendive, Jose Bedia, Flavio Garciandia, Mark Rorthko, Jackson Pollock, and Willen de Kooning are all strong influences on my work. I also use the literary work of anthropologist’s Cuban writers and ethnographers such as Fernando Ortiz, Lidia Cabrera and Alejo Carpentier as an inspiration in my paintings, sculptures, installations and more important for my writing.
How do you divide your time curating, writing and painting? Is it scheduled or intuitive?
I must confess, I enjoy very much the balance that all of these activities create in my life; they complement each other. I use the investigation part of the curatorial ideas to find meaning and purpose in my personal work. This dynamic is a part of my life; long ago I made a conscious decision that being involved in many projects is what I want to do and so far, it is working out
What sets an artist who curates apart from curators?
The artist who curates is an artist who is also an art historian, he finds answers in other artist’s work to all questions that keep coming to his head as an artist, as a curator and as a person. I am an artist, I am a curator, I know for sure that I am not going to stop presenting the ideas to audience, discuss my findings, listen to other options. It’s an ongoing exploration to have a better understanding of what we do and why we do it. By doing that we educating others.
What is "Relocated “and what do you hope to it will bring to viewers?
The exhibition "Relocated: Contemporary Cuban Art", reveals the artistic panorama developed by Cuban artists living outside Cuba over the last fifteen years to the present days. Far from being the result of a representative selection of current Cuban art, the exhibition aims to expose the fabric of artistic discourse that remains in this country beyond the exoticism shown so often by European and American centralism. The show explores the echoes and the subtle relationships that are established between works that are sometimes critical, and always fascinating. It has been a long time discussion about the erroneous statement, “Cuban artists working outside Cuba, their creations for some art organizations, galleries and institutions in the United States are not considered Cuban art”. With this exhibition we are sending a clear message, “We are Cuban artists”. The focus of attention is centered on artists from different generations. Many of the works selected have in common the fact of working with different levels of meaning at the same time and show in parallel a special taste for the common, the popular and the everyday, aspects that are conferred poetic status and a strange and attractive beauty. The works comprise a broad spectrum of interests, although their diversity does not prevent the interaction between all of them. Hope the audience Cuban or not can see themselves reflected in some of the artworks in the show, the issues aboard in the show affect all us, issues such as, social understanding, political awareness, migration and exile.
In your opinion, what's shifting for independent artist and curators in relation to the art-world? Do you see progress?
I don’t know if there is progress, progress can be relative to each individual or a specific institution. What I see is an evolution, the institutions or the art-world are taking independent artists and curators a little more serious, there’s still a long way to go don’t get me wrong, but now independent projects are being approved by the institutions, artists and curators in the independent field are proving themselves to a level that now we start seeing a bridge, years ago wasn’t even a possibility of communication. The reality is that we have to keep trying, we have to continue creating projects, proving ourselves that we have what it takes to educate at the same standards of these institutions that control the art-world.
To find out more about Alexis works and curatorial projects. Visit:
Alexis Mendoza Curatorial Projects