Artist left Cuba seeking opportunity

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 21, 2002

Cuban artist Luis Chamizo hopes Albert Lea can be his final destination to settle down.

Two years ago, he was among thousands of people who arrived in Miami from the Caribbean socialist nation, dreaming of a better life on the enemy’s soil.

&uot;There were no jobs in Cuba,&uot; said Chamizo. &uot;And no liberty.&uot;

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Graduating from San Alejandro Technical College in Havana in 1999 with sculpturing and painting skills, Chamizo was full of ambition to develop his career as a professional.

But the time coincided with the collapse of the socialist bloc in Europe, which brought an economic crisis to Cuba. 1991 was in the midst of turmoil in which the country’s gross domestic product dipped by 70 percent.

&uot;It got really difficult to get materials for art, even a simple paint tube,&uot; Chamizo said. The government was obliged to abandon generous expenditures on social services and expose the controlled economy to the market.

The legalization of the U.S. dollar has created the kind of economic disparity among people that the Cuban revolutionaries had fought against. A lot of people changed their jobs for the greenbacks, from a school teacher to a waitress or from a plant engineer to a taxi driver.

Chamizo was patient. He continued his artwork at his house in downtown Havana. Occasionally, he had a chance to place his pieces in a gallery. But mostly, he had to sell them on the street to foreign tourists, who were becoming more common.

&uot;I did not like what I was doing. It was not real artist’s job,&uot; Chamizo said. &uot;It was too much compromise.&uot;

But, it did not take too long for Chamizo to realize being an artist is not easy in the U.S., either.

The compromise here is to be on the line of meat production. Every day from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m., Chamizo works at the Hormel plant in Austin to buy materials for his arts and to feed his four kids and wife.

The most peaceful moment for Chamizo comes after 2 a.m., when he confines himself in a tiny studio at home that used to be a closet. &uot;One day I will accomplish my dream to live on my arts,&uot; he said.

His artifacts and paintings, which dispaly a clear influence of surrealism and modernism, are now exhibited at the Albert Lea Art Center.