An interview with the Cuban artist Sandra Pérez Lozano

18th May 2019

Sandra Pérez Lozano (b.1971) is a Cuban creative – a jack-of-all-trades – who lives between her native Havana, and the Mexican island of Holbox in Mexico, where she is the owner and creative director of a hotel named Ser Casasandra that runs an artist-in-residence programme called La Isla Residencia.

A poet, artist, musician, filmmaker – as well as a hotelier – Lozano is the spearhead of a group of powerfully creative Cubans that are aiming to share with the world their post-communist ideas. She was also one of the driving forces behind the 13thHavana Biennial in Cuba, which finished at the beginning of May 2019.

Candid Magazine sat down with Lozano to hear more about her background, ethos, and work.

Candid Magazine: Can you tell us a bit about your creative journey from poet, to musician, to filmmaker, to interior designer?

Sandra Pérez Lozano: More than anything, I am a visual artist now. I started writing poetry, and then from the age of 15 worked in a publishing house called Vigía. I also worked in a gallery called Matanzas. Much happened there – a whole generation of artists who were in the SIA (Superior Institute of Arts) worked there at that time. It was not a fixed job but there was a group of people in the city who worked in arts, literature and music. We were a group called the newest, a group of poets who collaborated with visual and graphic arts.

Then I published a book named Chronicles of a Dream that speaks of a vision of a generation of the 80’s who grew with the Revolution in Cuba.Later, for 15 years I did musical production. I traveled with a band doing all their production, management and promotion. I even worked on the development of an album project called Pablo querido; a collaborative piece by the most significant artists at that time (end of the 90s) in Latin America, artists closely linked to poetry and to that poetic song movement arose in the 60s.

But always, since I was a little girl, I have wanted to be a visual artist – a painter. At one point I turned my life around – I don’t know why. I had already bought some materials and in 2005 a hurricane took everything but a few charcoals and some canvases. The only thing that remained in my hotel (Ser Casasandra), in addition to some poles and some walls were the charcoals and canvases. There I started drawing, experimenting and studying the world of visual arts. I've had teachers, I've researched a lot, I've studied at a New York school of Art. That’s my path.

CM: Do you have a favorite discipline?

SPL: My favorite discipline is the visual arts, but my favorite thing is spirituality; the work of consciousness and awakening and the work of understanding that no matter what, everything must be done with awareness and with constant observation. Humanity needs to get out a little of the thinking system it has, because that is what prevents all of us from being and from understanding who we truly are. My discipline is very much a function of that.

CM: What inspires you?

SPL: The curiosity for life. I am also inspired by unity. I know I am a small particle of a wholeness that is making new things every day. Because, in the end, everything is the same when you live from a place of love, a healed and not a sick place. That more or less is what inspires me: to get out of the dream.

CM: What is a typical day like in your office/studio?

SPL: I do not have typical days, but generally start with a lot of conscience, with a certain discipline of meditation, of silence and reading. Later I go to the office where we discuss my hotel any issues, and then I get into the studio. The studio is like a great game, but also a craft where one trains the eye and connects with the mind. Really what one does, is surrender to work – whatever comes.

CM: What is the art infrastructure like for artist in Cuba? Is there a vibrant gallery scene and are there local collectors supporting artist?

SPL: The truth is that art in Cuba has a great institutional infrastructure with teaching, but at the same time, there is censorship. The art in Cuba has that duality: the capacity for growth and development, but at the same time, we have all this relationship with censorship.

There are no art collectors in Cuba because art collecting happens where there is money, resources and entrepreneurs. Cuba is not a country where that happens. Therefore, art collecting in Cuba is more based on visits from abroad and focused on the outside. That is why we are going to see small private galleries that begin to focus on fairs. Americans who have been following the visual arts in Cuba, they come to Cuba and visit the artist’s studios.

CM: How did you get involved with the Havana Biennial? 

SPL: The biennial invited us to participate as a collateral gallery and we accepted. I prepared two exhibitions. On the first floor is Let's be realistic, ask for the impossible, curated by Sachie Hernández and Marcelo Morales. It brings together 11 artists who speak with their own ideas and practices about the shift of certain margins, from the perspective of what is necessary and from the expression of intimate and social dreams.

As an artist I got involved in the Ad Infinitumproject that we have on the second floor, curated by Magda González-Mora. There wasn’t a women’s project inside the Biennial, and I have to admit that I don’t believe in gender projects but I do recognize myself as a woman, but more than anything I recognize myself as an integral being.

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What Magda narrates through the exhibition is women's vision of war, human rights, culture of countries as diverse as Iran, Albania, Serbia, Guatemala, Cuba, Canada, the correlation between covering and uncovering, dressing and undressing, which is seen all the time in the exhibition through the threads, the fabrics.

CM: Tell us about your project Ser Casasandra in Holbox?

SPL: Ser Casasandra arises from a purchase of a land with coconut trees and is a small boutique hotel that emerges as part of a house. I do not want to call it a hotel, but rather a residence, a house a little bigger than normal houses. When I conceived it, it was to have a refuge on a lost island in order to create and invite friends and have neutral spaces that were not contaminated by city life, the hustle and bustle – with no political parties, no wars, no violence, not even paved streets, cars, banks, McDonald's, nothing like that. It was like a no man's land where you could go little by little listening to your inner voice. You could have a moment of awareness, or simply enjoy nature.

CM: What is the Island Residence?

SLP: It is a relationship project, about how the visual arts and the arts in general share with a community that has a very strong island culture but not much contact with the world of arts.It invites artists of different artistic manifestations to collaborate with the community through workshops.

The artists after spending about a week in the hotel and in the community, inquiring, visiting, walking around the island, taking off their shoes, getting into the sea, seeing the nature of Holbox, the local families, can then generate a series of intersections among the community.The first call of the Island Residence was made by two young Cuban artists, Mariclaudia García Ruiz and Ernesto García Sánchez.

CM: What have you got planned next?

SPL: To create a space like Ser Casasandra in Havana – a space in which people interested in the visual arts come to live as an artist residence. We want to create as a small hotel where people interested in art and culture can have references and can come and spend time at the hotel, travel around the city – not as a traditional tourist but as a resident. You can eat with locals, visit studios, access guided tours in museums – not as a tourist but with people who really know the intricacies of the city.

Words by Toby Mellors

For more information on Sandra Pérez Lozano’s hotel on Holbox in Mexico, called Ser Casasandra, and its artist-in-residence programme, click here

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