Adislén Reyes, born in 1984, is one of several Cuban artists who will be exhibiting their works in London from October 2016

At the Havana Biennial in May 2015, Adislén Reyes presented a series of works which brought smiles to the faces of viewers, but also provoked more serious reflection. Entitled Crisis, each image in the series addresses this universal theme, frequently reusing several motifs. Reyes explains that, “The figure in each print is my alter-ego and the dog who often appears is a metaphor for art.” Created from graphite drawings these works have minimal detail, reducing each object to its essential basics.

The line IS the key

The line has an important role to play in this process. As a scrawl resembling a messy plate of spaghetti, the exasperation it expresses is something any viewer can identify with. Art making is not an easy undertaking. When the line, sometimes presented as a rope, bisects the composition, it becomes a horizon or a marker.

“It suggests how perceptions change with developments in our lives”, says Reyes.

The line also creates contrasts: between the outwardly calm masking the inner turmoil; within a love/hate relationship; or between the distance remaining towards the goal and the road already travelled. Each work has a story to tell and Reyes challenges the viewer to look beyond the initial playful humour to reflect on the deeper conflict expressed in each work.

Adislén Reyes - From the series: Crisis

Adislén Reyes – From the series: Crisis Photos: Music Fund for Cuba

Young, successful and creates a frisson

Reyes is one of the brightest emerging talents of the current generation of artists working in Cuba. She graduated from the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) in Havana in 2005 and today teaches printmaking at the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts. Despite her youth, her work is eagerly sought and she exhibits in over a dozen solo and group exhibitions each year. It isn’t difficult to see why such interest has been generated by her work. Described as ‘a smart young feminist influenced by contemporary media culture, plying the waters of relationships, sexuality, and identity with wit, humour and more than a little kitsch’, this is an artist who is highly accomplished as a printmaker and who engages with tensions in young Cuban society today.

Social commentary

Blueblood, a series of stunning textured prints with a different aesthetic from Crisis, explores social issues. Utilising a palette restricted to multiple hues of blue, the formal qualities of this work will delight the viewer. Upon closer inspection, it is created using hundreds of pliable rubber bands formed in different shapes that give the texture to each piece. A metaphor of a different kind is active in these works. Just as the rubber band modifies its shape so too, the artist suggests, has the thinking and aspirations of the current generation changed from the 1960s generation. The series also addresses some of Adislén’s contemporaries who enjoy the benefits of the revolution but shy from the manual work that has made them possible, like ‘bluebloods’ or aristocracy.

Adislén Reyes' studio

Adislén Reyes’ studio Photos: Music Fund for Cuba

Messages: Society’s attitude to women

An early silk-screen printed artist’s book entitled Folding, aimed to show how femininity is a construction. In Reyes’ more recent prints she uses images drawn from US popular culture and are used to question the social conditioning that shapes attitudes to women in society. She is interested in how children’s play, clothing, food and other agencies all work to construct differences in gender.

Interestingly, there is very little commercial advertising in Cuba, but with more internet access Cubans are becoming much more exposed to it. And so, sources are mined from Main Street advertisements for feminine-coded commodities – bracelets, lipsticks, handbags, high heeled shoes, all chosen in the light pastel shades of pinks, yellows and blues associated with childhood. But don’t be fooled by this cute and childlike imagery. It belies the powerful message of the work.