In Cuba, artists must be sanctioned by the government in order to display and sell art. Artists who are graduates of the Academy of Art, for example, receive a specific card from the Ministry of Culture authorizing them to sell their work. Those who are not part of this system are deemed Outsider Artists and are technically not permitted to make a living from their creations. Supporting these outsiders is Samuel Riera, the creator of Riera Studios and Art Brut Cuba.
He gave up his career as an artist and turned his own home into a studio to give a platform for people who otherwise wouldn’t have a place to display their art. Many of these people are not only outside of the system but also socially vulnerable due to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.
After the revolution, Fidel Castro’s new government told Gallo, “You are not a barber; you are a diplomat.”
Thanks to Samuel, these artists often go from being a burden to their family to being the top earner. We met with several of them including a man named Gallo in Alamar on the outskirts of Havana. His entire home and garden is his gallery. He’s never bought anything to make his art. All of his materials have been given to him.
Gallo’s story is super interesting: He was a barber before the revolution. His shop was a popular location with Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries. After the revolution, Fidel Castro’s new government told Gallo, “You are not a barber; you are a diplomat.” After his service as a diplomat, he dug into his passion for art. And, deep down, though he’s not officially recognized, he’s always considered himself an artist whether the government calls him one or not.
For those that know Cuba, you know that the island is full of color and artists. There’s art everywhere. It’s expressive, celebratory and often political. It’s also often created in places that are unexpected, by unexpected artists. We’re thankful for the opportunity to know Samuel and share the story of the work he does supporting Outsider Art with his Art Brut Cuba.
If you’re in Havana, we highly recommend a visit to Samuel’s Riera Studio. Shoot him a message first to let him know you’re coming. And say hi for us.
(This video is Episode #8 in our original Startup Cuba docuseries. Sadly, since producing the Episode above, Hector Pascual Gallo (“Gallo”) passed away in May, 2020 at 96 years old.)