Art Collaboration between the US and Cuba

Women in Trees * Mujeres en Los Arboles


This collaborative project brought together 4 US artists, Bonnie Levinthal, Sarah McEaneney, Betsey Batchelor and myself, and 4 Cuban artists, Jacqueline Brito, Yamilys Brito, Yasbel Perez and Alicia Leal.  Bonnie and I met Yamilys in 2012 at her studio in Havana, Taller Experimental Graphica. We immediately felt a connection to her, and had been thinking about doing a collaboration together.  That idea turned into this international collaboration.  We did not start with a theme, however early on we did come up with a title that is reflected throughout the work.  Each of the 8 artists started with a piece of paper, made their “mark” and passed the paper to the next artist. Many of the artists commenting that their favorite part of the collaboration was finishing a piece. For me this was true because I found seeing all of the voices together exciting.  We each had so much to say – and through the juxtapositions said it to one another, each maintaing our own voice while reflecting on those around us.

Discussion about the project at Taller Experimental Graphica
Discussion about the project at Taller Experimental Graphica from left; Ania(assistant to Alicia), Yamilys Brito, Yvonne Love, Alicia Leal, Sarah, McEneaney, Bonnie Levinthal, Betsey Batchelor.
The Process of passing.
The Process of passing.
And the 8 finished pieces;

cuba 1cuba 2cuba 3IMG_1906IMG_1908IMG_1909IMG_1911IMG_1912ZM0A2169ZM0A1790_1At the opening in Havana,From Left; Yamilys Brito, Jacqueline Brito, Yvonne Love, Gillian Siegfried (student), Bonnie Levinthal, Erica Lampe (student), Yilian Marie (student), Sarah McEneaney, Yasbel Perez.

Photo by Kate Hurni.

Women in Trees + Mujeres en los Arboles

Women In Trees .Mujeres en los Arboles A collaborative exhibition of American and Cuban Artists Artists: Jacqueline Brito, Yamilys Brito, Betsey Batchelor, Alicia Leal, Bonnie Levinthal, Yvonne Love, Sarah McEneaney, Yasbel Perez Students: Salome Garcia, Erica Lampe, Yilian Marie, Gillian Siegfried

Women In Trees .Mujeres en los Arboles
A collaborative exhibition of American and Cuban Artists
Artists: Jacqueline Brito, Yamilys Brito, Betsey Batchelor, Alicia Leal, Bonnie Levinthal,
Yvonne Love, Sarah McEneaney, Yasbel Perez
Students: Salome Garcia, Erica Lampe, Yilian Marie, Gillian SiegfriedOn Exhibition in Havana in November and at Penn State Abington December 4-January 31, reception Monday Dec. 9, 4-6pm.

This international collaborative art project involves 8 artists both from the United States and Cuba along with 4 student artists. The final collaborative works illustrate how the experience of collaboration changed viewpoints, exposed metaphoric boundaries and identities and opened a richness of shared experience between the artists physical and artistic juxtapositions.

Cuban Artists In June of 2012 my colleague, Bonnie

Cuban Artists

In June of 2012 my colleague, Bonnie Levinthal and I were fortunate to be included in a trip to Cuba, sponsored by Penn State Abington and organized by Arcadia University. We were both inspired by the visual place but even more by the cultural, political and spiritual exchanges we encountered when sitting in the studios and living rooms of several Cuban artists and poets. The first entries are about our meetings with those artists and the second a series of works between Bonnie Levinthal and I reflecting on our collaborative responses to Cuba.

In the home of Marta and Reynaldo Lopez, in Cuba

Bonnie Levinthal, Marta Ximeno, David Ximeno, Reynaldo Lopez, Yvonne Love

Bonnie Levinthal and I were very fortunate to spend several hours with Marta Ximeno, Reynaldo Lopez and their son David while in Havana. Marta made us an amazing frozen pineapple drink while we looked through Reynaldo’s paintings – being in the studio of an artist always feels like home. Reynaldo and Marta have beautiful collections of African art which resonate in Reynaldo’s pallet of color. After our time in the studio their son David shared a book of poetry that he had published at Ediciones Vigia in Mantanzas. Marta is a sociologist specializing in afro cuban relations.

Cuba, and an afternoon with poet Pablo Armando Fernandez

Poet Pablo Armando Fernandez in his living room in Havana

Bonnie and I cherished the afternoon that we spent with Pablo Armando drinking Cuban coffee in his living room and discussing poetry. He shared stories about love and dislocation. He had spent many years living in New York, and described the warmth of his return to Cuba years later with great passion. He has an art collection that rivaled the breadth of the collection of contemporary Cuban art at the museum in Havana, I can only liken the space and collection to that to the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Some of the highlights for me were works by Wlifredo Lam, Manuel Mendive and Roberto Fabelo – who created the fabulous drawing of Pablo Armando riding on a bird on the wall behind him.

Cuba, Roberto Fabelo's drawing of poet Pablo Armando

Drawing of Pablo Armando riding a bird by Roberto Fabelo

Ediciones Vigia


Archives at Ediciones Vigia


books in production
Ediciones Vigia was founded in 1985 as a way to publish books, pamphlets and single sheets of poems and music.  During the Special Period, these artists had to pull together scraps of paper and cloth in order to have something to print on, to share their art.  I found the “scrap” has become a regular image in contemporary Cuban art, that continues to references this period.  Ediciones Vigia also holds an aesthetic vision of utilitarian materials that is the signature of their books.

Some of the books that are created at Ediciones Vigia are dedicated to a particular artists with collaborative contributions. There is a beautiful one dedicated to the poetry of Emily Dickinson, with a 3-d pop up house.  But perhaps one of the more poignant books is a tribute to the artist Ana Mendieta.  Mendieta was a Pedro Pan child, with a conflicting story of exile.  Eventually Mendieta was able to return to Cuba as an artist in the 80′s where she made a series of body earth pieces in the caves outside of Havana.  This book respects her political, social, artistic and poetic voice and further connects her spiritually to Cuba.


While we were at Ediciones Vigia, resident artist (and upon more research I found out later he was one of the founders), Rolando Estevez, invited us into his studio.  He even made us each a small painting to take with us.  Being in his studio reminded me about the commonalities between artists; his collections of natural objects to work from, materials, artifacts, art from other artists, bees wax, books on artists like Frida Kahlo and color field painters…..Estevez’s work was highly political and intensely personal.  He had several series of paintings and a book on the American incarceration of the Cuban 5 – I believe in the book he uses his own portrait to represent their oneness or sameness;


Rolando Estevez , and his book about the Cuban 5.

Rolando Estevez speaking about his work in his Matanza studio.

In the home of Roberto Braulio, Matanzas, Cuba

In the home of artist Roberto Braulio, second from left, Matanzas, Cuba

We met Roberto Braulio at Ediciones Vigia (more soon), in Matanzas Cuba. As many of the artists we met he welcomed us into his home to show us his work. We had a really wonderful talk with him and his family. Here we tasted Mamey for the first time, a fruit that is like a sweet potato – dry and sweet at the same time. We also had our first snack of guava paste and Cuban white cheese….

Artist Roberto Braulio Gonzalez, Mantanzas Cuba

This image is from a series Roberto was working on to illustrate a new Pinocchio book. His illustrations for this series were beautiful, and reflected his painting style of juxtaposing imagery. Something else to be noted in all of his work and illustrations was the use of fragmented paper. We saw this in many artists work – I think a response to the “special period” when paper was not readily available and had to be pieced together to make something larger.

This series of works between Bonnie Levinthal and

This series of works between Bonnie Levinthal and I reflect our exploration of collaboration in response to the place of Cuba.  We were inspired by the visual place but even more by the cultural, political and spiritual exchanges we encountered when sitting in the studios and living rooms of several Cuban artists and poets.  The themes which have emerged in this collaboration  include exile, identity, literal and metaphoric isolation and boundaries.  These themes are evidenced in these  pieces as the poetic and symbolic spaces cross artistic boundaries; some pieces are made in parallel while others were handed back and forth between us working into each others imagery.

Cuba collaboration with Bonnie Levinthal

For this first piece, Bonnie started it, gave it to me and I finished it by working into her imagery.You can see my direct hand here through my materials; sand, sewn thread, and mirrors. It would be helpful to understand our process to also know more about Bonnie’s work;

Cuba Collaboration, 3, and our meeting with Pablo Armando Fernandez

This piece represented our first real struggle with this process. We work similarly enough to be frustrated by the differences. This piece has gone through many transformations, has been ripped apart and burned down…..I started it – a drawing in sand – and gave it to Bonnie – then we broke the rules and she gave it back to me – and then back to her. We added one of the poems that I wrote while we were in Cuba. One of my favorite images in the poem comes from the conversation we had with poet, Pablo Armando Fernandez, in his living room where he described his use of imagery in relationship to the Cuban landscape. He took us out to his front porch to show us his “Cuban waterfall” – his neighbor’s Royal Palm tree.

with intention
a process
to fall
into silence
shift down
to touch streets
rain weights
stone walls
to a lapping sea
where architecture moves
in pace
with dominoes
and zoom zoom
through the Royal Palm’s
water fall
in his living room
he carries.

Cuba Collaboration, 2

In this piece we added hair. Hair has a resonant history for both of us. In the 19th century it was used as symbol, either in a ribboned lock often given with a daguerreotype or woven into an intricate wreath, of an intimate relationship as well as embodying the physical of an absent friend or family member.

Cuba Collaboration with Bonnie Levinthal

This is the second fragment collaborative piece between Bonnie Levinthal and I in response to our trip to Cuba. This has fragment photos that Bonnie took with one of my poems woven in. This is part of a series of 4 pieces.

I left my book

in the sand

near your feet

you led me here

to lay me

in a craddle

of palms

where blue caresses

my tired weight

I found a wall

to press against


this is not

on any map.

Cuba Fragments
Your Breath Was Blue (On Cuba)

This altered book is part of a series of visual art and poems created in response to my recent visit to Cuba.Both books were purchased in a bookstore in Havana.

The poem reads:
your breath was blue
a skin of sand left prints
that I must swallow
I pressed my body
against the bird
I held and here
I became transparent
the blue of the sea’s
feathers filling.

Cuerpos leche (on Cuba)

A Collaboration with US and Cuban Artists

image Pictured above; the US artists Bonnie Levinthal, Sarah McEneaney, Betsey Batchelor and Yvonne Love.YLColab6

Take a look at this blog to follow a wonderful collaboration between 4 US artists; Bonnie Levinthal, Sarah McEneaney, Betsey Batchelor and myself and 4 Cuban artists; Yamilys Brito, Jacqueline Brito, Yasbel Perez and Alicia Leal. We will be working together at Taller Graphica in Havana beginning tomorrow. Above is one of four pieces circulated and worked on by each of the 4 US artists, we will exchange these with the 4 Cuban artist generated pieces and respond to each other’s work.