Susan Matthews



Sannu Means Hello                                             Rumba Morena

Africa and Afro-Cuba

My current work is about people I met in Africa and Cuba in recent years. My Afro-Cuban paintings are a result of many visits I have made to Cuba, beginning in 1995. Initially I went to Havana to study percussion and dance at Escuela Nacional de Arte, but I was soon inspired to paint about my experiences. The Cuba paintings focus on popular and ritual music and dance. I have met and studied with many of the people in the paintings, and whenever possible I have given them photos of the paintings. I have exhibited in several venues in Havana, including Asociación Cultural Yoruba de Cuba, and Museo de la Revolución.

In 2004 I went to Niger and visited traditional Hausa farmers and Fulani herdsmen in the Sahel, a dry strip of desert at the edge of the Sahara. I was welcomed in the villages because my brother and his family had been living there for fourteen years. To my surprise people were delighted by my digital camera, and everyone wanted to pose for it. From these snap shots I created a series of formal gilded portraits. I used gold, silver, and copper leaf backgrounds to create timeless portraits that recall the spirituality if Byzantine icons, although they depict contemporary people. I donate a portion from the sale of paintings and prints from the Niger series to a well drilling project which benefits the Wodaabi in the Sahel.

In both the Cuba and Niger series, the communities I have depicted are not commonly known to Americans. My hope is that these paintings will give the viewer a sense of familiarity with them, and open a path to their inclusion in dialogues about contemporary art and culture.


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