Jeff’s elephants live on in Havana

Jeff’s elephants live on in Havana


By Ibis Frade, Photos Courtesy of Emilio Fuentes Fonseca

In the heart of Havana’s business center rest 12 elephants. Bearing their heavy metallic framework filled with air they travelled to this spot apparently to remain after much wandering throughout the city. The artistry and ingenuity of the Cuban artist José Emilio Fuentes Fonseca (Jeff) are evident in this sculptural piece, one of his best known works on the island since 2005, when the pachyderms of inflated metal began their trip during Havana’s 10th Biennial.

“Elephants are nomadic animals and the city has no food for them. Mine were feeding themselves with the history of every place they travelled through: the Old Square, the Capitolio, the University of Havana, the Anti-Imperialist Tribune… and finally at the Business center of Miramar where they came to stay, drinking the future”.

Jeff’s elephants live on in HavanaJeff recalls that when he began the project named ‘Memory´, he kept asking himself, “What have I gotten myself into?”, as the undertaking was extremely ambitious.

“It took nine months of work, starting every day in the workshop at eight o’clock in the morning until the early hours of the dawn. I rested a little on Sundays and sometimes, but rarely, on Saturdays.”

Works of larger dimensions have a distinctive element forthe creation of the artist who puts a lot of value on size. “With pieces of spectacular dimensions you can reach people with fewer notions of art, a very effective resource. Also, the size of an object can change the meaning and concept surrounding it, for example, overtaking its world,” Jeff points out.

Jeff’s elephants live on in HavanaAnother distinctive mark that renders his work unmistakable is the appropriation of children´s imagery.

“We have all been children and we all drew in the same manner. In using the typical ways children draw in my work as an adult, I can be more direct and the message is rapidly transmitted. People are left to try to discover what is hidden behind something seemingly ingenuous.”

“Through this I deal with daily issues, be they political, economic, social… there is always an implicit message and sometimes, very personalized.”

Amid his future projects is to construct a site that recreates the rural scenery that influenced his own childhood drawings, with the depth of 3-dimensional images.

Jeff’s elephants live on in Havana“I would like to realize this dream in Cuba, in the large spaces that border the freeways. I want to place sculptures of concrete and inflated metal at different distances, hence achieve depth, and I would like to eventually turn it into a park.”

For the time being, Jeff keeps perfecting his work with inflated metal and experiments with other materials. “This technique occured to me one day while inflating a tire. I found out it had no tube. I investigated the process and it occurred to me to make something similar. First, I constructed a metal bucket and inflated it with air. I liked the result and continued on that path.” 

He announced that in his new works his technique will be slightly different and he will no longer use black sheet to make the sculptures. He will work with stainless steel which will allow him to obtain a different finish, in addition to the fact that restoration is not necessary with this very resistant material. 

“There is always a link between life and art. I lack a part of my left lung, so perhaps for this reason I make sculptures using air. In fact, my biggest growth as an artist came with inflating metal”, he adds smiling.

Meanwhile, sculpture is not his only passion. Jeff gives painting classes at the Academy of Fine Arts of Havana of San Alejandro where he not only enjoys the experience as instructor, but feeds himself with the new essences he discovers in his contact with the pupils.