The African Caribbean: Santiago Olazabal | Manuel Mendive | David Boxer

April 16 – May 21, 2011

The African influence in the Caribbean began with slavery. Although it seems like an event far away in time the consequences of it are still part of the social life in many countries. Slavery changed the racial composition of entire regions, establishing a distinction based on skin color. This condition permeated the cultural, religious and social life of these countries, and even centuries after slavery’s abolition we can still see the effects of it in contemporary society.

The exhibition explores the African influence in contemporary art through the works of three Caribbean artists: Santiago Olazabal, Manuel Mendive and David Boxer. Olazabal and Mendive’s works show the religious influence of African cultures while David Boxer’s commentary comes from a social viewpoint.


Santiago Olazabal is one of the Cuban artists who have been consistently representing Afro-Cuban themes in his work from the very beginning of his career. As a Santero (Santeria priest), his life and art have been conditioned by religion and its impact on people. The group of pieces in this exhibition is representative of his latest work, in which he continues to explore Yoruba religious ceremonies. 

Olazabal’s compositions often include ample void spaces and his figures are strongly contoured by black charcoal lines. He usually works in big formats, creating pieces of great impact. This effect is reinforced by his color selection, restricted to a few contrasting ones like black, red and yellow. His emphasis is placed on the human figure and the story behind each piece. Olazabal’s work is not illustrative in the conventional sense; he is not interested in narrating a ceremony or experience, but in sharing his religious viewpoints.  He is more of a commentator than a narrator.

Olazabal was born in 1955, in Havana, Cuba, where he still lives and works. He was educated at the San Alejandro Academy in Havana, Cuba. His work can be found at the National Fine Arts Museum in Havana, and in many private and public collections.


Manuel Mendive’s long trajectory can be divided roughly into two main periods: an early one in which the figures were conceived in a naïve style, and the later one in which the style becomes more expressionist. This exhibit includes works from both periods.

The early pieces represented scenes of Yoruba mythology in an almost flat perspective with a composition structured in bands. The colors in this period are bright and pure, with the figures in plain view. The latest pieces explore the same thematic in a more abstract way. The brushstrokes become loose, resulting in very expressionistic pieces. The palette has been restricted to more muted colors with an occasional brightness to highlight selected elements. His thematic continues to be related to his interest in the representation of Orishas (Gods) and the diverse religious ceremonies in which he takes part. Mendive, as Olazabal, is also a Santeria priest.

Mendive was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1944. He currently lives and works in Havana, Cuba, and Ocho Rios, Jamaica. He attended the San Alejandro Art Academy, in Havana, Cuba. His work is in many museums and art institutions around the world, including the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, Cuba; Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, La Palmas de Gran Canaria; Museums of Modern Art in Panama and Colombia and the National Museum of Tanzania, among others.


David Boxer is one of the most influential Jamaican artists of his generation. His work deals with the social connotations of slavery, commenting on it and showing its vestiges in the stratified contemporary Jamaican society. Although the national motto is “Out of Many One People”, race is still an important component of the social problematic in the island. Boxer is an art historian, and as such, his works include historical elements and references such as image appropriations. He takes images from cartes de visite and slavery-related imagery to make collages. He also includes objects such as original African sculptures in his assemblages and installations.

Boxer was born in St. Andrew, Kingston, Jamaica, in 1946, and currently lives and works in Kingston, Jamaica. He was educated at Cornell and John Hopkins universities. He has taken part in many exhibitions representing Jamaica, among those the Sao Paulo, Havana and Santo Domingo Biennials. His works can be found in several museums such as the National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica; Museum of Modern Art of Latin America, in Washington and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, among others.