Nestor Armando Gil talking about inspiration for his art. Karly McCloskey / The Muhlenberg Weekly

Associate professor at Lafayette College Nestor Armando Gil finished off the visiting artist lectures in the Martin Art Gallery, last Wednesday. The presentation was well attended; the audience made up of students, faculty and community members all fascinated by his stories and the meaning of his artwork.

Cuban artist Nestor Armando Gil gave a multi-medium presentation on his creations, varying from videos of performance art to pictures of giant sculptures that incorporated memories from his past, like kites, butterflies and rosaries. Gil presented on just some of the mediums that he uses in his work, which include sculpture, performance, printmaking and some photography and videography. These memories also connected him to his cuban heritage, and allowed him to do more than just teach at his presentation, but tell stories.

Throughout his presentation, Gil flipped to different pictures of his various artwork, gave each an explanation of how a piece was created and why it was created. The pieces were sometimes accompanied by a story from his childhood, or his family.

One example of storytelling with his artwork was in one of his pieces titled ¨Papalote,” which translates to ‘butterfly.’ This piece featured a kite with many holes, and the pieces cut out trailed behind the kite in a kaleidoscope of butterflies. Gil explained that this kite–minus the holes—is the same design that his father had taught him as a child. He then recalled a memory of making multiple kites for all of his neighborhood to play with, in the expectation that at the end of the day, there would be a pile of broken kites littering the park. Instead, he was sent running home with his little wagon to get supplies and ended up fixing them for everyone in the neighborhood.

Another fascinating story came from an art piece that was both performative and visual. In this creation, Gil traveled to Barcelona to hand out 59 loaves of bread given away for free in bread bags he designed and printed, inspired by his mother. Gil showed pictures of himself, dressed as a baker, both blindfolded and barefoot, handing out these loaves. These bags listed the ingredients, with the last ingredient being ‘esperanza,’ translated to ‘hope.’

While explaining this performance piece, Gil related it to another performance piece he did years prior. “There’s a trusting that happens with work like this. A couple of years before this, I was in Barcelona and I made a bunch of maps that were recalled by my mother’s memory of the place,” said Gil. “So if you looked at the map, the only things that are on it are the things my mother could remember when she told me about it, instead of a plain map of Barcelona. So it’s very limited in its usefulness, and I made 1959 copies of the map, took it to Barcelona and I just walked around on the streets, giving it away as a free tour map.”

Gil explained that people have a hard time trusting that something is free, there’s another layer of difficulty.

“I think that blinding myself, and barefooting myself, and clowning myself up, instead of just being in clothes, made me more trustworthy, the way you trust a clown to play with your kid,” said Gil. “It was strange that the oddity could fix itself to trust, as opposed to the similarity of me just being a guy in jeans and a jacket when I was trying to give those maps away. I guess everyone thought I was going to sell them something.”

Gil also provided cultural understanding to his artwork and teaching. To represent the dangerous overseas passage many immigrants take from Cuba to America, Gil uses inflatable rubber tubes as one of his main materials for his sculptures. These tubes are ripped apart and shaped into chains, giant rosaries and other important images from Gil’s past.

Throughout his entire presentation, Gil shared his cultural identity with Muhlenberg through his artwork and storytelling, enhancing the cultural knowledge of those who attended.

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