Cuban Refrigerator Art

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Cuban Refrigerator Art utilizes old refrigerators as the foundation on which to create large art pieces as a form of customization in which old appliances are re-purposed and given meaning as symbols of Cuban cultural heritage. This method of art was highlighted in the Cuban based project, "Monster-Devouring Machines." A total of 55 artists created 50 of these refrigerators. The exhibit was initiated in 2006 and has traveled to a number of locations around the world.[1].

History[edit | edit source]

Cuban Refrigerator Art uses discarded refrigerators and transforms them into large art pieces. As part of the Energy Revolution, old refrigerator models were being replaced with newer and more energy efficient models. As more and more of the large appliances were discarded, this project of customization grew. Inspired by Mayito and Fabelo's work, a number of artists (well-known and otherwise) became interested in doing their own pieces. When the decorated refrigerators could no longer be contained in Mayito’s house and garden, they were moved to the convent of Santa Clara and "Energy-Devouring Monsters" began its circuit.[2].

From Appliances to Masterpieces[edit | edit source]

The Cuban way of art is finding resources available and transforming them into a work of art with cultural meaning [3]. This process is called w:Customization. Customization is the transformation of an object by redesigning it into something new, and thus the object is given a whole new meaning. The old refrigerators, that were originally intended as a method of preserving food, underwent an artistic transformation through painting and resculpting to became icons of Cuban cultural heritage. The refrigerators now represent Cuban history as well as artistic meaning. The art shows Cuban culture through the creation. For example, one artist sculpted a fridge into a classic Cuban car and others painted ocean scenery on theirs to show the island’s beauty. Customization played a key role in the creation process of Cuban refrigerator art. This process allowed the art to be a new cultural object.

Cuban Energy Revolution[edit | edit source]

The Cuban Energy Revolution (Revolución Energética) is a program instituted to cut Cuban energy consumption in order to alleviate problems, such as frequent blackouts that the country has faced in the last few decades. [4] This program worked to replace over 9 million incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs within 6 months. Under this program, Cuban citizens purchased more than 2 million energy-efficient refrigerators, 1 million fans, 182 thousand air conditioners, and 260 thousand water pumps. The Cuban Ministry of Education also created an educational program on energy conservation in 1997, and has been educating Cuban citizens about energy conservation and renewable energy resources through weekly television programs, ads and news articles. [5] The program also institutes increasing rates the more energy a household uses, with the incentive that if a household can keep its energy usage low then their rates will remain low as well. Cuba has also constructed two wind farms, a grid-connected solar electric plant and 180 micro-hydro power plants. Over 8000 solar electric systems have been installed in schools, health clinics, social centers and many residential buildings.[6] This program has practically eliminated the almost daily power blackouts of the mid 2000’s.

Energy-Devouring Monsters[edit | edit source]

Energy-Devouring Monsters (Originally titled Instruction Manual) is a Cuban based art project started by curator Mario González (Mayito) and painter Roberto Fabelo. The idea for creating the refrigerator art project exhibition was conceived after Mayito and other artists attended a book launching. They began to look for refrigerators and invited other artists to join the refrigerator project.[7].

The exhibition was first displayed in the Havana Biennial in the old convent of Santa Clara. In total 55 artists produced 52 refrigerators. The refrigerator, in Cuba, is considered part of the family, it is the “central object” of urban Cuban life. It is a kitchen appliance but it is crucial in the everyday life of Cubans. The hot weather in Cuba renders the refrigerator a necessity. It is not only needed to keep food cold and store perishables, but it is also a place where people put their clothes to keep them cool before going out in the hot sun. Many Cubans consider the refrigerator part of the family because the same refrigerator could be in someone’s family for 40 to 50 years.[8].

The team formed by Roberto Fabelo, Mario Miguel Gonzalez “Mayito”, Jorge Luis Montesinos and Axel Li invited other artists to form part of the refrigerator art project. This project took an ordinary kitchen appliance and transformed it into a piece of art. Together they created what Mayito refers to as a very pleasant and very respectful atmosphere in which they could work on this project. He believes that one of the most significant aspects of this project, at least for him, was the recreation of the workshop atmosphere. They created a work space that facilitated collaboration. The artists would meet Wednesdays and Fridays to work on the project. They created an environment where they could work but also listen to music and play dominos.[9]. The refrigerator art project was a project where the artists came together as a community around an object that has an essential place in Cuban life. The customization of the refrigerator serves to preserve the history and culture of Cubans by linking it to an object that is in near extinction and is considered integral part of Cuban life. The old refrigerators are being replaced by newer models and the old ones are sent to plants where they are recycled for parts.

To create the refrigerator art, the artists used old refrigerators as a base. Using paints, power tools, cardboard and in some cases materials like paddles and books, the 55 artists created unique and creative pieces of art.[10]. David Rodriguez’s piece Yesterday was made to look like a clock that represents the passage of time. Jorge Perugorria’s refrigerator Good-bye Rocco was transformed into a coffin. It is decorated with flowers and the refrigerator’s worn-out motor is displayed where the face of the deceased would be.

Refrigerators in Cuba[edit | edit source]

Mayito recounts that when he purchased a refrigerator from a woman she said, “You are taking my family’s history with you.” He asked her, “What do you mean by history ma’am?” “Look,” she replied, “this refrigerator was bought by my father, who raised me and my brother. And I raised my two sons, and now I’m selling it to you. But I’m selling it to you with a feeling of joy and pain, because it’s like a member of my family.” This kitchen appliance for generations has provided families with a place to store food. It however, also symbolizes Cuban resistance and ingenuity.[11].

With the U.S. embargo on the Island in the early 1960s, Cubans had to learn to preserve the technology and materials that they had. Most of the technology that they had was from the 1950s. The “dragon which devours our electricity” is how Fidel Castro refers to these refrigerators. But the Cuban people look at their old refrigerators with pride. They are proud of the fact that they have kept the refrigerators functioning for 50 years.[12] Despite the U.S. embargo, Cubans and the refrigerators have survived. The old refrigerators are big and “devour” energy much in the same way as the U.S. embargo has “devoured” the Cuban economy. Yet, both the refrigerators and Cubans have resisted.

The old refrigerators or monsters that devour energy are being replaced by the more energy-efficient Chinese models. These refrigerators are smaller than the old ones and require a significant investment on the part of many working class Cubans. For many Cubans purchasing these new Chinese refrigerators is a large investment and requires that they set up a ten-year payment plan. The Cuban government has attempted to promote the exchange of the old refrigerators for the new ones by claiming that reducing one’s electricity bill is patriotic.[13] But reducing energy consumption is not the only reason why the Cuban government favors getting rid of the old refrigerators. Cuba has limited resources and very few countries are willing to undermine the U. S. embargo and trade with the Island. Therefore, old refrigerators are recycled to make new products. In plants like Antillana de Acero, the steel from the refrigerator is used for construction materials. The Empresa Conrado Benitez extracts the copper to produce telephone and electric cables. The aluminum is taken to make kitchen utensils and kitchen appliances.

Founders[edit | edit source]

Mario González (Mayito)[edit | edit source]

Mario González is a founder and creator of a Cuban cultural project called “What we are.” What we are is a Cuban contemporary art project that was created by a group of artists that collaborated together to make an exhibit at a famous monument called the Castillo del Morro that is known for its history. The artists used the monument as a common gallery to display their art to the public. González has directed many collaborative art projects around the globe including the Devouring Monsters. His goal is to create spaces for the public to view art.[14]

w:Roberto Fabelo[edit | edit source]

Roberto Fabelo is the most famous artist in Cuba. He is known for his half-human, half-animal figures. His pieces comment on human conditions using fantasy. His work creates a division between reality and fantasy. His art was used to illustrate Gabriel García Márquez stories. Due to his fame Mario González asked him to help with his ideas of painting on old refrigerators and together they found the Devouring monsters exhibit [15]. Fabelo was born in 1951 in Camagüey, Cuba where he has been dedicating his life to art.[16]

Artists[edit | edit source]

w:Luis Enrique Camejo[edit | edit source]

Luis Enrique Camejo is a Cuban painter who paints scenery of urban Cuban life. He is known for capturing the busy noise and movement of modern society. His works are of city streets, trains, skyscrapers and moving cars. His “fast food” piece in the refrigerator art exhibit, the Devouring Monsters, is a sculpture that represents Cuban cars. He studied art in Habana at the school of art de Pinar del Rio in 1983 -1986. He has displayed his exhibits of urban life around the world since 1991 and more recently in 2012 his exhibit called art Wynwood was displayed in Miami, Florida. He has won several awards for his art, two in 1990, 200, and 2003.[17]

w:Kcho[edit | edit source]

The Cuban drawer and sculpture Alexis Leyva Machado is known to the world as Kcho. He is famous for his art installations that resemble Cuban history and famous icons. He works with materials that he can find on the island of la juventud, Cuba to create sculptures with meaning. He works with boats and paddles that represent the mass exodus during the Cuban Revolution. His piece in the devouring monsters is a refrigerator with paddles called, “obejecto soñado,” the object of dream signifying the dream of fleeing to the United States [18]. He was born in 1970 in la Isla de Juventud, Cuba and studied at the National art school in Havana Cuba in 1986-1990. He has won numerous awards, his most recent in 2007[19].

w:Jorge Perugorría[edit | edit source]

Jorge Perugorría is a very famous figure in Cuba. He is a well -known actor who stared in many movies including his most famous Fresas y Chocolate. Not only does he act, but he is a very talented artist who paints in abstract art using cubes. Also he has made several sculptures, one that is in the Devouring Monster series called Goodbye y Rocco. This piece was made in humor because it is a coffin that is saying goodbye to the old refrigerators that were once considered apart of the Cuban family. This was made in memory of the past. Perugorría was born in Havana in 1965 where he stayed and flourished as an artist working on his acting and other forms of expression. He is now a famous Cuban icon [20].

Exhibits[edit | edit source]

Cuba, Santa Maria: Centro Nacional de Conservación, Restauración y Musicología (27 March - 27 April 2006)

Spain, Madrid: Casa de América (1 February - 8 April 2007)

Italy, Milano: Triennale di Bovisa (21 June - 12 July 2007)

France, Paris: Le Grand Palais (17 July - 3 August 2007)

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. The Fridges. Havana Cultura. 2007.
  2. The Fridges. Havana Cultura. 2007.
  3. The Fridges. Havana Cultura. 2007.
  4. Guevara-Stone, Laurie. "La Revolucion Energetica: Cuba's Energy Revolution" Renewable Energy World 9 April 2009.
  5. Bosshard, Peter. "Cuba's Energy Revolution: Yes They Can!" International Rivers 1 May 2009.
  6. Bosshard, Peter. "Cuba's Energy Revolution: Yes They Can!" International Rivers 1 May 2009.
  7. The Fridges. Havana Cultura. 2007.
  8. The Fridges. Havana Cultura. 2007.
  9. The Fridges. Havana Cultura. 2007.
  10. The Fridges. Havana Cultura. 2007.
  11. The Fridges. Havana Cultura. 2007.
  12. Bosshard, Peter. "Cuba's Energy Revolution: Yes They Can!" International Rivers 1 May 2009.
  13. Guevara-Stone, Laurie. "La Revolucion Energetica: Cuba's Energy Revolution" Renewable Energy World 9 April 2009.
  14. Mario Miguel González Fernández (Mayito). 7 June 2012.
  15. Roberto Fabelo. 2001.
  16. Roberto Fabelo. Galería Cubarte. 2006.
  17. Camejo, Luis Enrique. Camejo Art. 2007.
  18. Zeitlin, Marilyn. Kcho. 2001.
  19. Kcho. Marlborough Gallery. 2012.
  20. Perugorría, Jorge. Jorge Perugorría. 2011.

External links[edit | edit source]

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