Cuban sculptor Juan Francisco Elso weaved the spiritual traditions of Latin America and Afro-Caribbean in his work and inspired a movement.

Juan Francisco Elso was born in Havana in 1956, three years before the Castro revolution, and grew up in a Roman-Catholic family. Being immersed in religious imagery and rituals predisposed him to a deep and durable attraction in visual expression of various spiritualties, from ancient Mayan religious sculpture to the ceremonial Afro-Caribbean rituals.

When he was an art student, Soviet-style art education based on 19th-century European academic traditions was the only officially approved educational method. But focusing on creating a new Cuban art encompassing indigenous resources, references to Afro-Atlantic cultures, and influences from overseas contemporary art, Elso and his colleagues organized unconventional exhibitions and performances.

He created art from available materials such as: clay, string, branches, papier mache, dried leaves, sand, rainwater, etc.

At that time, Elso’s was internationally recognized. His appearance at the Venice Biennale in 1986 attracted attention. However, some of Elso’s works didn’t attract favorable reputation in Cuba, as the government officials considered his artwork ideologically inappropriate.

This year, a retrospective exhibition of him was held in America, with only about 30 artworks of him displayed. Elso did not have much time to produce artwork and died of cancer in 1988 at the age of 32. Since he had worked mainly with unstable materials, much of his work has been vanished or destroyed.