Hábitat (Habitat), 2004. Bed, artificial lawn, printed sheet, printed pillow cases, and wallpaper, 300 x 243 x 243 cm. Photo: © Courtesy Estudio Glenda León

Higher Realities: A Conversation with Glenda León

Cuban-born artist Glenda León came of age during Fidel Castro’s regime, so she learned early on to make art from mostly free and cheap stuff. Now dividing her time between Havana and Madrid, León remains a media egalitarian whose odd assortment of materials includes everything from her fingernails, hair, and the sound of her breath to pianos and mountains of sand. Transcending nature and manufactured worlds, her large-scale installations, sculptures, and performance-based videos embrace the full range of human aspiration, reminding us why we crave and create art, even during life’s most dire moments.

Joyce Beckenstein: You grew up in the high-tech global age but lived in the small island nation of Cuba under Castro, so your daily life ricocheted between almost infinite access to information and very limited access to human freedoms and basic necessities, including food and soap. As a young artist, how did you deal with this dichotomy?
Glenda León:
There were also two families within those two worlds that you mentioned: my mom’s Cuban family and my stepfather’s American family. Contradictions indeed shaped my vision. In school, I was taught that America was the enemy. But such dichotomies taught me to look beyond what you first see or hear, and this encouraged me to look for a higher reality . . .

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