Photos: Darío Leyva
In recent times Flora Fong has been devoting herself to “study and mediation”: the world of Feng Shui, which is very much connected with the energy of the wind and water, is the object of in-depth research for this Cuban visual artist, who holds an unquestionably relevant and well-deserved place in the contemporary context.
Without failing to mention her participation in international events — for example, before the end of the year she will attend the Ibero-American Art Fair in Seoul, South Korea; the IAAF and two other exhibitions that are being organized in the United States — this painter, drafter and sculptor says she is enjoying “a new stage,” experiencing “a lot of optimism and looking toward the future.”
In an exclusive dialogue with OnCuba, she revealed that mountains, which made brief appearances in recent years, “would probably reappear strongly” in her coming work, maybe even becoming part of a series. “All of this research is a real motivation for developing the theme of nature, especially mountains, which are full of many types of symbolism,” she says.
Flora Fong (November 8, 1949, Camagüey) affirms that when she was still in preschool, “all the other children in my class” would come to her desk to ask her to make drawings for them. When she was in the sixth grade, that interest led to her being enrolled in the Camagüey School of Visual Arts, where she completed secondary school: “I felt such passion that I wanted to express it through colors and drawing.”
Any influence she may have had at home came perhaps from her father, she says — her father, of Chinese descent, married a Cuban — who displayed “striking artisan skills” when he created large, complex and beautiful Chinese kites.
A year after she graduated from the National Art School (ENA) in 1970, Fong began to give painting classes at the San Alejandro Academy of the Arts, and she continued to do so uninterruptedly for 19 (!) years. This work was “extremely important,” she says, but she admits that it involved great personal effort, because she was studying Chinese at the same time. “I had a real interest in using elements from that calligraphy in my painting.”
During the 1980s, Flora became firmly established in her career without setting aside her role as a mother. Li and Liang, her two sons, are now both visual artists: the first graduated from the San Alejandro school and the second from the Advanced Art Institute (ISA). “I did not try to persuade either of them to be an artist, but apparently it is in the genes, and they have had those inclinations since they were very young. I remember that when Li was just five years old, he made a very interesting and well-proportioned horseman with an airbrush, and Liang also made very creative compositions. In both cases, my pride as a mother is obvious.”
Like most artists, she has gone through various stages. At first, she combined white, perhaps as an expression of light, with gestural brushstrokes, and some people say that Flora Fong’s painting is associated with magical realism, and an attempt to observe the inner world of human beings: the home, the intimacy of a couple, the family.
Then came her well-known series Remolinos y ciclones (Whirlwinds and hurricanes), in which wind-lashed palm trees are a symbol of insularity. Subsequently came Caribe, which is an explosion of color, and then Las Antillas and Bahía. Nevertheless, Flora herself says that her work revolves around themes, not series, because “it is a way of putting order and discipline into my work.” Her series Girasoles (Sunflowers) “was not created merely because of a whim, but because I felt that it was a bridge between material (purely Western) and Eastern concepts, in which I was immersed, and upon which my discourse was based. I found that duality in the sunflower, and that is why I am dealing with that flower and not another.”
For this artist, 2006 was a year of beginnings, in the sense that she made a series of sculptures (in black steel, large format), in which she adapted Chinese calligraphy and square characters to three dimensions. Two years later, these sculptures were shown at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Fine Arts Museum), and one piece, Huele a café, still stands today in the museum’s central patio.
As Fong herself acknowledges, she shifted her course “from west to east,” and understood early on that while artists may remain open to what is happening in the contemporary world, they must look within and examine their sentiments to decide what they have to say and how they are going to say it.
This woman, with her almond-shaped eyes and her ready smile, has decided to pursue the fascinating wisdom of the Asian world, in which the balance between nature and human beings is fundamental, but with a profound, searching, deep-rooted and above all Cuban approach: and her work is there to confirm that.