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Student's M.F.A. Project Explores Her Cuban Roots

Abigail Gomez MSV Art in the Halls

M.F.A. painting graduate Abigail Gomez. Photo courtesy of Abigail Gomez.

Long before diplomatic relations between America and Cuba were restored last year making travel to the island easier, artist Abigail Gomez yearned to go there. Her great-grandfather immigrated to the United States from Cuba. And although Gomez never got to meet him, she’s always been fascinated with the country and her Cuban heritage.

“Cuba was beyond intriguing to me,” explained the 2015 Academy graduate who earned her M.F.A. in painting online. “I’m a third-generation Cuban, and the language and traditions weren’t passed down to me. It was necessary for me to experience Cuba and discover it so I could know more about my roots and who I am as an artist and a Latino American citizen.” 

Pursuing her M.F.A. degree provided Gomez with the perfect opportunity to finally make her dream of visiting Cuba a reality. She decided to focus her thesis project on Cuba, which would require visiting the country for research, sketching and painting.

Getting to Cuba for the first time in 2014 wasn’t so easy. Tight travel restrictions were still in place back then, and due to safety concerns, the Academy couldn’t provide her with the required form she needed to prove she was a student working on a thesis project. But Gomez didn’t give up. Determined to get to Cuba, she talked her father into taking an organized cultural tour of the country with her.

Gomez_Fruta Fresca

Fruita Fresca by Abigail Gomez.

Gomez_Atemporalidad

Atemporalidad by Abigail Gomez.

Gomez_Tierra Natal

Tierra Natal by Abigail Gomez.

“It was a packed itinerary,” said Gomez. “We went to all kinds of artists’ studios and workshops. We also saw music and dancing performances and visited a culinary school. It was a wonderful open access pass to the arts in Cuba.” 

Another very exciting part of that trip was visiting Pinar del Rio, the province where her great-grandfather was born. “We actually found the house he was born in,” Gomez remarked. 

During her visit, she also developed a friendship with a local artist. When she returned to Cuba last summer after Obama relaxed travel regulations, she strengthened that relationship and met other artists, including Louis Lamothe Duribe, a well-known printmaker whose work has been exhibited all over the world (except in the U.S.). 

“That trip lead to the successful completion of my thesis project, as well as an opportunity to exhibit my art in Havana,” Gomez said. “Louis was really happy to support me and try to develop some sort of connection to access art between our two countries.”

He provided her with space in his printmaking center in Havana, Taller de Serigrafia Rene Portocarrero. The two-week show came to an end on June 26, however Gomez and Duribe are also discussing the possibility of her having a longer, more extensive exhibition there in the future. And she hopes to repay Duribe for his generosity by helping him show his work in the U.S. at some point.

“One of the biggest impressions I came away with from my time in Cuba is how incredibly supportive everyone from individuals to the government is of all the arts,” she said. “It’s really important to Cuban people to catch up on things they haven’t had access to in the U.S., including what’s going on in the art world in the western hemisphere.”

Gomez_Hora Dorada

Hora Dorada by Abigail Gomez.

Because shipping things to Cuba is still difficult, Gomez isn’t featuring the actual pieces that comprise her thesis project at her show in Havana. “I’m taking a series of mixed-media pieces that are studies of work I did as I was conducting research for my thesis,” she said, a few days before flying to Cuba to set up the exhibition. 

Gomez will exhibit the final pieces created and inspired by her time in Cuba—mixed-media paintings on mid-sized cradled panels—during a solo show at the Academy’s Cannery Gallery later this summer. Called Roots: La Cuba de mi Bisabuelo, the exhibition will kick off with an opening reception on August 4. 

She admitted she was a bit skeptical about earning her M.F.A. online when she first enrolled at the Academy. “Art is such an immersive experience, but every semester, I learned more and more,” she remarked. “I was surprised by how effective the online teaching system was. One of the wonderful things about the Academy is the connections you make and the support from instructors.”

In addition to working on her Cuba exhibition, Gomez has been staying busy with a variety of other art shows since graduating. She was also selected for two fellowship programs. “It’s been pretty non stop,” she said. “One thing sort of leads to another, and it’s all been great.”