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Glenda León

About Glenda León

Glenda León

b. 1976, Havana

Glenda León is a visual artist who asks us to hear what she sees, or see what she hears, or think about what we hear and see when we look at one of her works. In a relatively short period of time (she was born in Havana in 1976) León has managed to gain recognition around the world for her particular ability to cast sound in a visual medium. Her video and conceptual work is featured in museums (the Centre George Pompidou in Paris, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana, Cuba, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) and galleries in Cuba, Germany, Spain and the United States.

As with many artists working in Cuba, Glenda León was susceptible to the Cuban passion for music and the performing arts. At 14 her parents enrolled her at the Centro Prodanza de Cuba and for nine years she studied classical ballet under the direction of Laura Alonso, the only daughter of Cuba's legendary prima ballerina Alicia Alonso. She proved her talent for dancing and for choreography, but somewhere along the way she decided she had other things to prove. She studied art history at Havana's Facultad de Artes y Letras and she began working as a visual artist, but she did so without ever really leaving her interest in music behind.

Glenda Léon often works with the raw materials and by-products of music. She examines them and transforms them to reveal their metaphoric power in an age when the way we make, produce and consume music is in constant flux. Léon's recent (January-February 2012) exhibition at the MagnanMetz Gallery in New York her first solo show in the United States– was called "Listening to Silence" and featured sculptures made of 45 rpm records and photographic prints of various objects (leaves, raindrops, dice) superimposed to form "notes" on ruled sheet music.

In a work that was first shown in Havana as part of her Objetos Mágicos Encontrados series (2005), a two-legged piano leans forward like a circus pony taking a bow after a performance, its lid raised to reveal a burst of yellow wildflowers.

Some of Léon's conceptual work incorporates a personal dimension, literally. Her "Peinado para Momento Silencioso / Hairdo for a Silent Moment" series features sheet music formed from strands of her hair. Chewing gum (chewed by the artist) has been used to make an image of a tree and a map of the world. And one of her works seems to draw directly upon her experience of her native city. "Tu Ropa es Mi Ropa" (2006) is a digital photo print on canvas showing clothes drying on the kinds of laundry lines that stretch across Havana streets. With the difference that, in Glenda Leon's imagining of the scene, the clothes hang against a blue sky like birds on a wire, no people or buildings in sight, receding to infinity.

"I spent a lot of time worrying about the absurdities of life in Cuba, or trying to make sense out of situations that seemed a bit absurd," Léon tells Havana Cultura.

But then she went to live in Germany, studying at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne from 2005 to 2007. "When I came back to Havana I saw things completely differently. I saw that absurdity could have a positive side."

--Courtesy Havana Cultura