Katia Gonzalez Salazar: a Cuban sculptor in Guadeloupe

Aged 39, Katia Gonzalez Salazar is a multi-skilled activity leader at the Centre des Métiers d’Art in Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe) for seven years. She graduated from the Academia Provincial de Artes Plásticas “José Joaquin Tejada” de Santiago de Cuba (Provincial Academy of Plastic Arts “José Joaquin Tejada” in Santiago de Cuba) and she has already exhibited her works on the occasion of several national and international events on her island, Cuba.

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Katia Gonzalez Salazar is this very dynamic and nice young woman who speaks French very well and all people who frequent the Centre des Métiers d’Art located in the district of Bergevin in Pointe-à-Pitre or all visitors who go to the CMA stand when it participates in outdoor events (fairs, shows etc.) have already met her. But do they really know her? Do they know that Katia Gonzalez Salazar is a brilliant artist who graduated from an art school and participated in national and international exhibitions in Cuba? Definitely not because Katia is a quite modest person. If some people invent a glorious past in their country to find a place in the sun in Guadeloupe and after we hear that they had lied, for this interview Katia came with all documents of her artistic education and professional experience in the field of art (diploma, certified diploma, exhibition catalogues etc.).

Katia Gonzalez Salazar is from Cuba and grew up in Santiago de Cuba, South of the largest island in the Caribbean, a city well known for its cultural melting pot. Her mother is a specialized teacher and she has two sisters. As a child, she already showed a gift for art. “I was in the country so I made lots of things with my hands like dolls with grass and cloth, she said.

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Sculpting, a male artistic discipline?

At the age of 14, she did an internship at an ore company: “I was with a friend and it was her aunt who helped us get this fifteen-day internship. In this company, there was a production workshop for pottery. After these two weeks, I could not stay but they gave me a letter to go to another workshop”, she recalled. So, the teenager arrived at the Luis Diaz Oduardo Cultural Workshop (Taller Cultural Luis Diaz Oduardo) which is also in the big city of Santiago de Cuba. “It is a centre that teaches all the specialities of pottery (sanding, molding etc.). This training course was also to last two weeks but when I came back from school, I spent all my free time at the Workshop that was opened from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm and I met the artists. In fact, every evening and for three years, I went to the Workshop where there were, among other things, sculpting but also drawing”, she told. At the age of 17, the girl passed her baccalaureate. In 1998, encouraged by people around her who thought she had a good professional future in art, she decided to take the competitive entrance examination for the Provincial Academy of Plastic Arts “José Joaquin Tejada” in Santiago de Cuba. She passed this selection which opened to her the world of sculpting that she liked and other specialities. “There were 20 students in my class. Four of us already had the Baccalaureate, the other sixteen had to take art courses and study to pass their Baccalaureate at the same time. Those who already had the Baccalaureate stayed at the Academy for three years, the others for four years. I was the only girl in sculpting, in fact, it was ten years since there was no girl in this discipline”, continued the young woman.

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An art degree in 2001 in Santiago de Cuba

During her studies, Katia will participate in several trainings and exhibitions. Indeed, in May 1999, she attended courses in natural materials recycling where she learned how to salvage and use them as raw material for artistic creation; in May 2000, she did an internship entitled “Earth, Matter and Supports” and an internship on the manufacture of traditional kiln. In 1999 and 2000, she was in the group exhibition of students at the Rene Valdes Gallery and at the House of Traditions. In April 1999 and in 2000, she was at the Salon National David in the Oriente Gallery. In 2001, she will participate in several projects such as the creation and exhibition of atmospheric works for the outside of the Antonio Maceo Grajales Atomic Power Station, the production of the monument to General Antonio Maceo Grajales (a 5-meter high sculpture) and the realization of a mural in this same atomic power station… That year, she also organized her first personal exhibition entitled “Souvenir” at the Padro de las Esculturas.

On July 13, 2001, Katia Gonzalez Salazar graduated from the Academia Provincial de Artes Plásticas de Santiago de Cuba “José Joaquin Tejada” (Provincial Academy of Plastic Arts “José Joaquin Tejada” in Santiago de Cuba) with the following specialities : “Technician in plastic arts, sculpting, artistic glass and graphical design”.

In 2002, the sculptor participated in the 14th Provincial Exhibition of Fine Arts “November 30” at the Centro de Artes Plásticas y Diseño and won the “Special Mention of the Jury” for her work, “Tras un Sentimiento”. As she thought that you live and learn, she attended an internship on “Contemporary Cuban Visual Arts”. That year, Katia Gonzalez Salazar left Cuba to spend holidays in France with her older sister who lived in the city of Avignon.

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Several exhibitions and awards in Cuba

In 2003, she participated in the collective exhibition which paid tribute to the artist Antonio Ferrer Cabello and took place at the Asociación Hermanos Saiz Gallery. Then, she created a palette of painter for the 90 years of artistic life of the artist Antonio Ferrer Cabello at the Luis Diaz Oduardo Cultural Workshop. In addition, she returned to the Provincial Exhibition of Plastic Arts “November 30” at the Centro de Artes Plásticas and Diseño and, during this 15th edition where 34 works were exhibited, she presented an installation entitled “Perspective of a self-portrait”. She won three prizes: “Special Mention of the Jury”, “Grand Prize Collateral Asociación Hermano Saiz” and “Great Prize Casa de Caribe”. “I have sculpted my portrait on a human scale, I am chained myself to my mirror that is in front of me on the easel and I am watching me grow old”, explained the artist. In 2003, she went on holiday in France at her sister’s.

The year 2004 was very rich in exhibitions for Katia Gonzalez Salazar. She participated in the collective exhibition called “De Artistas Santiagueros” which took place at the Ateneo Cultural Antonio Bravo Correoso; in the exhibition “La Vasija” at the Cultural Center Francisco Prat Puig with over thirty artists of several nationalities, where she presented her work “Vida para la Vida”; in the exhibition of the HIV Prevention Week titled “Paraíso de Reyes” where she showed her work “Perspective of a self-portrait”. In May of this year, she was at the 18th International Meeting “Terracota” which was celebrated at the Luis Diaz Oduardo Cultural Workshop and she received a participation certificate. After her two stays in Avignon, Katia Gonzalez Salazar went back to France and decided to stay there permanently.

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Working to survive in France

It must also be said that the young woman was disappointed in love because, in 2003, she separated from a Guadeloupean that she had known in Santiago de Cuba in 2000 when he came to participate with his group in the carnival festivities in the Cuban city… She looked for work in the field of art but she quickly became disillusioned. “I went to see all the exhibitions in the many small galleries in the city”, she said. She wanted to continue training but a workshop located behind the Palais des Papes asked her 900 euros to attend 35 class hours, a real fortune for her… Finally, she found a free internship at the Beaux-Arts in Avignon but I noticed that I already knew everything that was taught there and I gave the students some advice. So, I went to the department dedicated to the restoration of paintings to discover the techniques”, she said.

She got married to a French oenologist and went to live in the north of France. It was colder in this region, she was sad, she rarely went out, she did not make progress anymore in French, her plans to find a job to help her mother were unsuccessful, she would like to return to Cuba so, with her husband’s consent, the young woman decided to go back to live in Avignon with her sister. To facilitate her integration, she attended a 100-hour training at the University of Avignon to learn the French language. She found a job in the breakfast service of a hotel. Then, she was hired in a shoe store and, as she was not afraid of hard work, she became the main shop assistant. “I set aside art, sculpting because I had to work to survive, said the artist.

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A sculptor at heart

In 2012, she resigned from her job to settle in Guadeloupe because, in 2009, the fate put on her path this Guadeloupean lover she had left in 2003.

Today, Katia Gonzalez Salazar lives with her companion and has a little girl called Clara. She has been working at the Centre des Métiers d’Art in Pointe-à-Pitre for seven years and she is a multi-skilled activity leader (pottery, sculpting…). “At the Centre, I teach plastic arts, painting and paper mache to adults and children, some of them are disabled, their parents are very happy. In the afternoons, I go to two schools in Pointe-à-Pitre (Bambuck and Cipolin) where I give art classes between 4:30 pm and 5:30 pm”, she said. In addition, all year long, the artist produces terracotta objects that are sold at the CMA or in exhibitions and fairs.

On October 8 and 10, on the occasion of the “Cuban Days” organized by the municipality of Pointe-à-Pitre, the public discovered some of the sculptor’s works exhibited at the Pavillon de la Ville. “If I had not gone to France, I think I would be now a well-known artist in Cuba. I knew all the artists, I could sell my productions (…)”, she said. Asked what attracted her to sculpting, she replied: “I like the volume. My dream would be to make 5-meter high works, the highest I made was 1 meter 80 high, it was in Cuba”, she said.

However, as the old saying goes, “You should never blame an annoyance”, an artist remains an artist and there is no doubt that Katia Gonzalez Salazar will soon organize exhibitions in Guadeloupe, Cuba and elsewhere…