The Flowers of My Exile at Lisa Sette Gallery in Phoenix features work by conceptual artist and Cuban dissident Reynier Leyva Novo, now an artist in exile in Houston, Texas.
Reynier Leyva Novo: The Flowers of My Exile
May 6–September 30, 2023
Lisa Sette Gallery, Phoenix
Amid contemporary manifestations of authoritarianism and repression in American society, Lisa Sette Gallery is showing The Flowers of My Exile, an exhibition featuring works by Reynier Leyva Novo, a dissident artist who left Cuba in 2021 and now lives in exile in the U.S. It’s titled after a photographic series depicting wildflowers the multidisciplinary artist encountered since leaving Cuba while traveling in Spain, Mexico, and the U.S. Across the gallery, photographs from Novo’s Blank Check series (2020-23) document performative actions undertaken by the artist in Havana, often in settings such as a theater or outdoor hammock that elevate ideas related to leisure, labor, and economic injustice that resonate in both Cuba and the U.S.
Conceptual artworks rooted in historical records and the artist’s own experience that illuminate intersections of the personal and the political are particularly effective here, prompting reflection on the ways artists and others engage in individual and collective protest during their everyday lives.
With Destino manifesto, El peso de la Tierra (Manifest Destiny: The Weight of the Land) (2016-23), Novo employs an elegant minimalism to addresses the expansive impacts of imperialism and colonizing culture. Painting with black lithography ink on a gallery wall, he has created five squares symbolizing 19th-century treaties and a purchase check bookended by silhouettes of U.S. maps from 1787 and 2017. The size of each square corresponds to the amount of ink used to write each document. Along another wall, his S.O.U.P. (Survival Objects Under Pressure) (2018-23) installation comprises 260 silver spoons engraved with the words of 20th-century political dissidents who have participated in hunger strikes. The spoons’ surfaces reflect back the images of those who read them as if to suggest complicity or issue a call to exercise one’s own agency.
Today, Novo is based in Houston, Texas, where the political landscape includes calls to ban immigration, bodily autonomy, and books that address race, gender, identity, and sexuality. Exploring The Flowers of My Exile, it’s exciting to consider the ways Novo’s evolving practice may reflect his own activism while inspiring others to action.