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MIKE ALLEN | The Roanoke Times
The paintings and sculpture that Martinez has on exhibit at the library is work he’s created since coming to the U.S. Much of it reflects the prominent African influence on art and religion in Cuba.
Sunday, June 30, 2013
A Cuban artist’s exploration of his cultural heritage stands by the entrance to the Roanoke Main Public Library on Jefferson Street, featuring brightly colored figures influenced by African art much the way Picasso’s paintings were.
Roanoke City Public Libraries and Blue Ridge Literacy collaborated to bring together the display by Yudel Martinez, 43, who in 2007 escaped from Cuba with his family on a boat that took him to Miami.
A political refugee, Martinez is a student in Blue Ridge Literacy’s English for Speakers of Other Languages and citizenship program, said Russ Merritt, the Blue Ridge executive director.
Martinez was inspired to pursue a creative path by his artist father, who was jailed by the Cuban government when Martinez was 6 months old and died when he was still a child.
Starting out as a goldsmith, Martinez added painting, sculpture and pottery to his repertoire. After a trip to Italy in 1995 to learn smelting and glazing, he began a series of metal sculptures of Eleggua, a figure sacred to Afro-Cuban culture. The sculptures became popular and decorated a chain of hotels throughout Cuba.
His success had a dark side, though. When he began to make money as an artist, the Cuban government cracked down on him.
The government tried to dictate what he should make, shutting down his business (which had seven employees), confiscating his art and ordering him to create an art installment for a military compound. When he refused, he was jailed for four years, from 2001 to 2005.
That was the last straw for Martinez. After he was released, he and his family escaped to Miami. They came to Roanoke to join a family they knew who escaped the same way in 1995.
Martinez and his wife run a jewelry store, YM Eleggua-to Jewelry, on Williamson Road, while he’s working to rebuild a new body of art work to replace the sculptures and paintings he had to leave behind. The couple has two sons, a 21-year-old studying at Virginia Tech, and a 13-year-old in Andrew Lewis Middle School.
The library display holds a sculpture and paintings he’s created since coming to the United States. Women have flowers in their hair and multicolored faces. Some figures appear to have two heads, which Martinez said symbolizes good and evil thoughts. Some faces have only one eye, a motif found in African art.
Martinez himself doesn’t have African ancestry, but his interest comes from his artistic training and the prominent African influence on art and religion in his home country — a home he and his family can’t return to. Martinez is one of about 400 people participating in the Blue Ridge Literacy program. Most of them are immigrants, representing 40 countries.
Martinez — who doesn’t speak English fluently — wanted to have the display as a way of giving back to the country that’s become his home, Merritt said. It also helps to raise awareness of the nonprofit programs that teach English reading, writing and speaking skills and help participants take citizenship tests.
Martinez and his wife are working toward taking those tests, and their oldest son has already passed, Merritt said.
The display will stay up through mid-August. For more information, call 265-9339 or visit www.brlit.org.
Christ Episcopal Church at 1101 Franklin Road in Roanoke has announced the schedule of its 2013 Summer Festival of Organ Music. All concerts take place at 7:30 p.m.
Atlanta organist Herbert Buffington will play July 9. North Carolina organist and former Peace College professor Virginia Vance plays July 16. Thomas Baugh, the church’s director of music, plays an all-Bach program on July 23. All performances are free. For more information, call 343-0159.
Steinways move in
On Tuesday, Hollins University will bring seven Steinway pianos to campus for use by the music department.
“This delivery completes our goal of becoming an All-Steinway School,” wrote chairwoman Judith Cline in an email.
Radford University is the only other all-Steinway school in Southwest Virginia.
Hollins will officially celebrate its all-Steinway designation during Founder’s Day on Feb. 20, 2014, with a recital by German pianist Alexander Schimpf.
Monday, the Nelson Gallery at 27 W. Washington St. in Lexington opens “X-Scape, Paintings By Sue McCoy,” an exhibition of oil and acrylic paintings spanning subject matter from Rockbridge County landscapes to gritty urban scenes to abstract works.
McCoy has won best in show awards in juried art shows held at the Nelson Gallery in 2005 and 2009, and she was the 2012 Juried Show Members’ Choice Winner.
A reception takes place 5 p.m. Friday. The show will stay on display through July 31. For more information, call 540-463-9827 or visit www.nelson-gallery.com.
On the Arts blog
Read about the Virginia Museum of Transportation’s plans to restore the Norfolk & Western J Class 611 steam engine and Roanoke’s obscure rail connection to Harry Potter at blogs.roanoke.com/arts.
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