Natalia Bolívar, A Deep Love for Cuba
By Jorge Hernández Álvarez Photos: Manuel Muñoa
Cuban ethnologist Natalia Bolívar will soon turn 80, leaving behind a legacy of a multifaceted woman, characteristic of the course of her life: rebel fighter, painter, writer and consultant for musicians, filmmakers and producers as well as recognized specialist of Afro-Cuban religions.
A source of knowledge and live history, freedom fighters´ blood runs through her veins. Natalia is a descendant of the Latin-American hero Simón Bolívar. She also had a great uncle that was an assistant of the Deputy General Antonio Maceo. As if that were not enough, in line with her family´s emancipatory instinct and tradition of fighting for independence Natalia herself would be a revolutionary against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.
“I have lived intensely for many years, that is why I always say to my daughters not to weep when I die as I have lived a happy life,” affirms Natalia to Cubaplus. Born in an aristocratic family, Natalia was part of high society of that era. A such, she received the best of education and with her deep artistic inclinations, studied painting and sculpture at San Alejandro and drawing, paint and composition at the Art Students League of New York.
She also studied Cuban art at the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature at the University of Havana. After its closure in 1956 due to student agitation and protests against the Batista dictatorship, Natalia began to work at the National Museum of Fine arts. Here she worked under the aegis of Lydia Cabrera, recognized specialist in Afro- Cuban themes which would be a great influence for her later work.
“Yet the one who first introduced me to the world of the Orishas was my grandmother Isabel Cantero, who died at the age of 104. It was she who, in addition to taking care of me, showed me from a young age how to truly appreciate nature,” recalled Natalia.
“I continued with Lydia Cabrera at the National Museum of Fine Arts when she put up an Ethnology hall and I was able to give conferences.” Natalia is also a disciple of Fernando Ortiz, an important researcher and specialist of Cuban culture.
With the victory of the Revolution, Bolívar was nominated as Director of the National Museum of Fine Arts and did a lot of serious work with restoration and finding pieces in the country.
Later, she diversified her cultural work across several State entities while enriching her studies of Afro- Cuban culture. She became an expert on the subject and publicized several pieces such as the emblematic Los Orishas en Cuba (The Orishas in Cuba ) During her life Natalia developed friendships with big painters such as Mariano Rodríguez, René Portocarrero, Luis Martínez Pedro, Víctor Manuel, Wifredo Lam; and with recognized filmmakers and producers such as Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (Titón), Manuel Octavio Gómez, Enrique Pineda Barnet and Armando Suárez del Villar, many of which she provided advice for on cultural pieces with Afro- Cuban themes.
Tireless, Natalia continues with her projects, the most recent one based on one of her original ideas. Devoting herself to studying the Afro-Cuban element indepth, she wanted to recreate the Negro´s presence in the island´s cultural landscape through interactive dialogue between music and painting. “For this 11 Cuban paintings were chosen, from the end of the 18th century to the 20th century where either the Negro or the Afro-Cuban element was present. Pictures of these works were delivered to 11 musicians.”
“We described to each musician the history behind the assigned picture, the presence of the Negro so that the image could inspire them to create a melodic composition,” Natalia detailed.
Natalia Bolívar loves her country´s culture and demonstrates it in all of her projects. She still has a lot of life and through each of her steps and words always talks about the love of her land. “I would not be able to live anywhere else”.
“Honestly,” she says, “I can travel, be away for a month, maximum two because at that point I have the need to come back, I get hungry for my land. I don´t see myself anywhere but in Cuba”.