Unique Cubanisms Project Brings Global Cuban Artist to Kansas City

In March, Cuban artist Michel Mirabal visited Kansas City through the Cuban cultural project Cubanisms, spending several weeks working and exhibiting in the studio of Peregrine Honig. (photo by Jim Barcus)

In 2014, Cuban artist Michel Mirabal received a call from then President Barack Obama. Thinking it must be a prank, Mirabal hung up the phone three times before finally accepting the call. President Obama asked Mirabal to create a special piece to commemorate the establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. The result was a collection of handprints, dipped in red, white and blue paint. The prints were from the hands of Cuban and American individuals, including both Barack and Michelle Obama. They were layered, dripping down on one another, making it impossible to tell where one ended and the other began. Eight years after that diplomatic venture to use art as a bridge between countries, Mirabal found himself in Kansas City doing the same.

Mirabal made his way to Kansas City through the cultural project Cubanisms, which connects Cuba and the United States through trips, music and art. The project was founded in 2016 by spouses Dálida T. Pupo Barrios of Cuba and Michael McClintock of the U.S. When Pupo Barrios moved to the United States, she was struck by misconceptions in the way Americans view Cubans and vice versa. McClintock has deep connections to Cuba through his music, including playing the native Cuban instrument, the tres. Cubanisms was born out of their love for both cultures and their desire to break barriers. Pupo Barrios explained, “I thought that organizing the trips to visit Cubans, not a touristic trip, but a soul-to-soul cultural connecting trip, was the best way to get to know each other.” On these trips, groups from Kansas City visited Mirabal’s studio and gallery, Finca Calunga, and three of his pieces made their way into Kansas City collections.

In early March of this year, Mirabal arrived in Kansas City with his wife, Dania Pérez, and director of Finca Calunga, Iria Alba. Kansas City artist Peregrine Honig generously opened her studio space to Mirabal, covering her walls in his red, white and blue paintings with oval flower petals repeating and overlapping into familiar forms, including the Cuban and American flags. Piercing through the petals are golden spikes of barbed wire. In certain pieces these sharp wires are more pronounced, while in others they are buried beneath delicate flowers. Mirabal focuses on the truth that some moments hold more beauty than others. Honig added, “The really amazing thing about this artist is he has this ability to bring struggle and beauty together in one place.”

Mirabal will exhibit works he created during his Kansas City visit in an exhibit at the Kansas City Museum, opening June 16. (photo by Steve Paul)

Though he is from a marginalized neighborhood in Cuba, Mirabal has grown into a global artist with patrons such as former President Barack Obama, King Mohammed VI of Morocco and former President Donald Trump. He cares deeply for the world around him as well as the one he came from, saying, “My deepest desire is becoming an international artist by creating work from Cuba, uplifting my nationality and my roots.” Portions of the proceeds from his artwork fund youth outreach at his gallery, Finca Calunga. Mirabal’s trip to Kansas City would not have been possible without Cubanisms, Honig and many generous sponsors. His work will also be featured at Kansas City Museum this summer.

For more information about Cubanisms and Michel Mirabal, visit www.cubanisms.org/cuban-artist-

Emily Spradling

Emily Spradling is an adult English-language instructor, freelance writer and founding member of the arts/advocacy organization, No Divide KC. She is particularly interested in the intersections of art, culture and LGBTQ+ issues.

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