The Art of Pedro Oliva

Pedro Pablo Oliva (Cuban, b. 1949), ¿Y ahora que? (And Now What?), 2015, from the series “El gran abuelo”, bronze, 27 ½ x 16 ½ x 11 inches. Private Collection.

The Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida will explore the contributions of Pedro Pablo Oliva, one of Cuba’s most renowned living artists, in a new exhibition, The Art of Pedro Pablo Oliva, opening March 2. This exhibition of five works on loan from two private Florida collections, honors Oliva who is known for his fantastical and provocative paintings, drawings and sculptures that reflect Cuba’s social, cultural and political life. These five works represent two of Oliva’s most celebrated series – one on Fidel Castro and the other on Cuban emigration to Florida. The exhibition will present Oliva as a chronicler of his time and will spark debate on issues of identity, nationality, and US-Cuban relations.

About the artist
Pedro Pablo Oliva (b. 1949) was born in Pinar del Río, Cuba, and studied painting at the Escuela Nacional de Arte de La Habana. He has exhibited widely in Cuba and has won numerous prizes and distinctions. He also has served as an important teacher to a younger generation of Cuban artists. Oliva’s modernist figurative paintings reflect political events that took place in his lifetime. His highly personal style is characterized by vivid color and dream-like imaginative scenes populated with fantastical creatures. His imagery is inspired by comic strips, caricature and contemporary culture, and combines childhood memories with day-to-day realities of life in Cuba. Oliva has gained an international reputation through his impressive exhibition record. His paintings and sculptures have been featured in numerous exhibitions in Latin America (Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico), the United States (Houston, Miami, New York, San Diego, Tampa), and Europe (France, Italy, Poland, Spain, Switzerland). Collected widely, his work is found in museums in Cuba and in the United States, in a number of private collections as well as in The San Diego Museum of Art.

El Gran Abuelo (The Great Grandfather)

Pedro Pablo Oliva (Cuban, b. 1949), Abuelo probándose un par de alas (Grandfather Trying a Pair of Wings), 2012, from the series “El gran abuelo”, mixed media on cardboard, 39 3/8 x 27 9/16 inches. Private Collection.

Three works in the Harn exhibition will be drawn from Oliva’s series titled El Gran Abuelo (The Great Grandfather). This series, consisting of more than forty paintings, drawings and sculptures, deals with the personality and life of Fidel Castro (1926-2016), Cuba’s legendary communist revolutionary and president. These images explore the theme of Castro the man, rather than Castro the political figure, and are in contrast to the public persona of Castro circulated by the Cuban media. For example, Retrato (Portrait) shows Castro with eyes closed as if he were sleeping or meditating, while Abuelo probándose un par de alas (Grandfather Trying a Pair of Wings) depicts Castro with hands clasped as if in prayer as he contemplates his mortality. The bronze sculpture ¿Y ahora qué? (And Now What?) includes a figure of Castro about to be squashed under a huge rock that symbolizes the weight of political pressure. By focusing on and imagining Castro’s inner thoughts, Oliva addresses a gap in how the Cuban government and the media have presented Castro to the Cuban public.

Navegantes (Sailors)
Oliva’s series titled Navegantes (Sailors) will be represented in the Harn exhibition by two works, Fruticuba and El héroe (The Hero). This series consisting of numerous paintings, drawings, collages and sculptures, addresses several waves of emigration to Florida from the 1980s to the present. Oliva imagines the thoughts and motives of the thousands who fled Cuba by sea aboard all sorts of vessels—many of them dangerously not seaworthy. Oliva sees these figures as tragic/comic heroes who flee Cuba aboard absurd imaginary vessels consisting of soda cans, as in the bronze sculpture El héroe (The Hero), or watermelons, bananas and oranges, as in the

Pedro Pablo Oliva (Cuban, b. 1949), El héroe (The Hero), 2016, from the series “Navegantes”, bronze, 17 x 18 x 17 inches. Private Collection.

large painting Fruticuba.
The Art of Pedro Pablo Oliva will be on view at the Harn Museum from March 2 through July 7, 2019. The exhibition will be accompanied by gallery interpretation, available in English and Spanish, on Oliva, the themes represented in the works on display, and the Cuban historical and political climate that has informed his work. A panel discussion in response to the exhibition is planned for Sunday, March 17, at 3 p.m. For more information on the panel, please visit the Harn website at

The Harn Museum of Art is located at the University of Florida’s Cultural Plaza and includes five garden spaces and eleven galleries for the exhibition of African, Asian, modern and contemporary art and photography. Admission is free. To learn more visit

Read MoreBy Dulce María Román

Author: Arbus

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