Arlés del Río, born on November 6th, 1975 in Havana, Cuba is one of the island’s most instantly recognisable artists. Having erected installations in Times Square, New York and the Malécon, Havana, del Río’s name has been on the lips of most Cuban contemporary art collectors.
Arlés del Río has been defined as an autodidactic artist. His work is informed by a combination of social commentary and an exploration of what is real and imagined through material manipulation. Del Río’s installation pieces use a wide variety of quotidian materials such as chain linked fencing. This is specific material can be seen in two of Del Río’s most well-known pieces Nearness, an installation piece set in Time Square, and Fly Away part of the 11th Havana Biennial’s display Detrás del Muro. Nearness, the artist explains, “isn’t monumental art. It’s not just for looking. It’s art on a human level—for passing through, for participating in. It’s for the life of this area, for Times Square and all the people who pass through it. All classes of people.” Nearness deals with restrictions, distance, the forbidden and achieving longings despite impediments. The 17 sculptures consist of copper and steel panels cut out with human silhouettes of various sizes. These panels invite participants to get close and even step through, representing metaphorically the social, political, cultural and personal barriers, among others, that may keep us away from one another.
Comparatively, Fly Away deals with a more intimately Cuban imagery and topic. The strategic placing of an airplane-shaped hole in a gate on the malécon is rife with political and social commentary. Arlés del Río explains “Fly Away was more conceptual, more dreamlike or suggestive,” he says. “It was more the idea of flight than flight itself”. This is because for many Cuban citizens the idea of flight rather than flight itself is their reality. The work could also be a commentary of the flight shape hole left in the lives of many Cuban’s still on the island, as over 50,000 Cubans have left the island every year over the past 3 years at least.
Arlés has exhibited in various national and international exhibitions and biennials. He has also been nominated for a variety of fellowships and prizes. At the age of 42 del Río is known internationally and features in private collections across the world.