• Invitation Oxford

Captivated by Cuba

Milly West began a love affair with Cuba over 20 years ago that has led her to create a vast collection of local art from that country.

Story by Andi Sherrill Bedsworth | Captions by Milly West | Photographed by Joe Worthem

It all started in the mid-1990s when Oxford resident Milly West was co-owner of Southside Gallery. A chance conversation led her to the Center for Cuban Studies in New York, which was offering its first dedicated art trip to Cuba.

“We went in January of 1996,” West said. “I found a lot of art and real joy!”

Back then, gallery owners could travel to Cuba with a specific license to visit artists’ studios. Those visits led West to begin forging relationships with prominent Cuban photographers, sculptors and painters.

“That first trip with Sandra Levinson, director of the Center for Cuban Studies, opened doors wide for me,” West said. “The Oxford community responded very positively to the work I showed, so I returned for more.”

With every trip, West’s collection has grown, along with her love for Cuba. After more than 35 trips, she has well over 100 works of art, including photos of the revolution. Many are for sale, though some she says she wouldn’t part with.

“I will always hold on to some works because of my relationship with the artists and the quality,” West said.

Work for sale is on display in Tres Puertas Gallery adjacent to West’s house and at The Edison where owner Lindsey Baquie allows her to show it. You can learn more about West’s journeys to Cuba and view her photos in her book, Cuba for Keeps, available online at issuu.com/krowswork/docs/cubaforkeeps_krowsworkbooks. If a travel photography trip is on your bucket list, West teams up annually with photographer Danny Klimetz to lead photography workshops in Cuba. For more about the next trip, scheduled for January 2020, visit thecollectivewander.com/jan2020-cuba

Young Girl Matanzas

This photo was on the cover of West’s book, “Cuba for Keeps.”

(This photo) represents that sophistication as well as the character and ease with which guests are accepted in Cuba. This lovely young woman in Matanzas allowed me to take her photo with just me gesturing to ask, ‘is this ok?’ I looked for her on the last of my trips to give her a copy of the book, but have had no luck in finding her.

Three Wooden Sculptures by Blanca Rosa Chacon Santiago de Cuba Holguin | 20 inches tall

The work of wood sculptor Blanca Rosa Chacon, deceased, (Holguin province), deals mostly with the Afro-Cuban heritage of Cuba and often the relationship between the slave and the master. The pieces shown here are about 20 inches high.

Jorge Luis Sanfiel Cárdenas (Santa Clara), “Homenaje a Egipto” (“Egyptian Lady with Cat”), acrylic on linen, 16” x 10.”

Sanfiel believes that cats can teach us how to live; that is when to rest, how to ask for affection, and how to be playful.

Julio Barbón Davis (Cienfuegos), “Ana María,” acrylic on linen 21”x 18.”

This piece is one of my favorites. It’s strong, and it shows both the innocence and dignity of a young Cuban school girl.

Julio Barbón Davis (Cienfuegos), Jimaguitas en el valle de las mariposas” (“Butterflies”), oil on linen, 29”x 24.”

When I saw this painting of these twins in Galería Diágo in Havana in 2014, I knew I was looking at the work of someone special.

Suitberto Goire, deceased, (Santiago de Cuba), “Doble Sesion”, a limited edition serigraph to commemorate a longer school day for all Cuban students, 1986. 32” x 20.”

Goire’s amazing posters often promoted an event or propaganda for a national cause like education or conservation of energy.

Luis Rodriguez Arias (Mella), “Pedro y Maria”, acrylic on heavy paper, 16” x 20.”

I met Luis Arias and many other naive painters on my first trip to Cuba in 1996. He is known for his paintings of the serene life around Mella, a small village near Santiago de Cuba.

Carlos César Román Pérez (Trinidad), “Ja Ja Ja”, acrylic on heavy paper, 10.5” x 12.”

Ceasar’s work is creative, often with a universal theme, and this piece shows that no matter where you are, that sometimes, nothing makes sense.

Roberto Domingo Gil Esteban (Cienfuegos), “Director”, acrylic on linen, 15” x 19.”

This piece makes me smile because of my gallery experience!

Roman Pérez López “Chicho” (Santiago de Cuba), from his series, “Una manera major” (“A better way”), “Fire Flower”, ink and paint on poster board, 8.5” x 14.”

This is one of many from Chicho’s series about how to address conflict, and I love the sentiments he expresses. There is a better way.

Roberto Domingo Gil Esteban (Cienfuegos), “Bella Barco” (“Beautiful Ship”), depicts a ship flying flags of both Cuba and the United States. Acrylic on linen, 15” x 19.”

This ship represents the hope that all Cubans have of normalizing relations with the United States. For me and all my Cuban friends, this would be wonderful.

West is holding a self-portrait by José Rodríguez Fuster, (Jiamanitas, near Havana). It is painted on Side A of a 33 R.P.M. record on the Arieto Label, Havana. In the background, close up is a painting by Roberto Torres Lameda, (Mella) and on the wall more paintings by Julio Barbón Davis.

Fuster is one of the best and most giving artists in Cuba. He has turned his entire community into a masterpiece with tile and paint.

Oxford, Mississippi | United States

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