SF-based artist’s latest work pays homage to his Oaxacan roots

San Francisco and Oaxaca are places with a lot in common. Both cities stand out for their art, and it’s in this American city where Vladimir Cuevas, a native of Zimatlán de Álvarez, Oaxaca, has lived for 28 years.

This painter and sculptor made a boyhood dream of his come true: attending the Guelaguetza, the most important indigenous cultural festival in Latin America. And not only that, within the framework of this world-renowned celebration, Cuevas inaugurated his sculpture “El Danzante.”

The Oaxacan artist—who has a predilection for the Dance of the Feather, whose most striking element is the feathered headdress—recalled that as a child, “[I] thought that by wearing it I could fly.”

Cuevas could never attend the Guelaguetza, due to his father being schizophrenic, a fact that limited family activities.

It took him 10 years to develop the idea for ​the sculpture of “El Danzante,” and it took four intense months to construct it. Cuevas is now the creator of the largest “El Danzante” sculpture in the world, built on top of the hill of Yavego, in the city where he was born.

The sensation one feels when seeing “El Danzante” atop the hill, is that he is guarding Zimatlán, as if it were in charge of remembering the identity of the Zimatecos, their origins and what they are made of.

It is said that the sculptures are irremediably linked to a place or a person. “El Danzante” is linked to the childhood of Cuevas and Zimatlán. I have no doubt that with time it will become the identifying symbol of the Zimatecos.

With this sculpture, the artist expressed a sea of ​​feelings, longings and memories through the modeling. When seeing the work, we can think that the sculpture continues to have the power to explain to the town part of its history, such as its origins.

“El Danzante” represents the Dance of the Feather, a majestic and historic Oaxacan tradition of Zapotec origin, which narrates the Conquest of Mexico. I agree with those who consider sculptures as books sculpted in stone or metal. In this case, it’s also a piece that embellishes the magical hill even more, a gift of nature.

Anyone visiting the land of the green quarry can enjoy this work that measures more than 42 and half feet high, made with metal, fiberglass, resins and automotive paint.

Cuevas contemplates the greatness of his work and says he fills with emotion and that he is willing to put that same faith into other projects. “Faith without work is sterile,” he said.

“I worked hard so that ‘El Danzante’ could be inaugurated during the Guelaguetza 2018 festival, and I succeeded. My work and the great festival came together, making this great moment something like I have always dreamed it.”

For Cuevas, Oaxaca represents his beginning, his sorrows and joys, in addition to his growth and, above all, the magnitude of the emotions that flutter in his mind and heart, for which he has mixed feelings when his work is concluded.

“I’m Oaxaca,” he said. “I am a happy person, I see the color in life and with a lot of peace, and that defines me as a Oaxacan.”

The Zimatec painter has had exhibitions in the Philippines, Europe, South America, Mexico and the United States. In San Francisco, his home, he has exhibited at The Legion of Honor, Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts and at the recently closed Polanco gallery.

He is currently planning an exhibition that will open on Nov. 20, where he’ll display the molds used for the “El Danzante” sculpture, accompanied by photos and videos. The exhibit will be mobile, traveling throughout Mexico, and some countries in Latin America and Europe.

In his art you’ll find abstract works and figurative pieces. His paintings demonstrate his great handling of sands, pigments and oils, with which he develops colors and creates part of the universe known as Oaxaca.

In his work, he highlights the Mixtec Calendar, and works with modeling paste, cork and acrylic pigments on wood. As with “El Danzante,” Cuevas highlights his interest in pre-Columbian culture.

The Oaxacan artist works in various formats, and has more than a hundred religious pieces, most of which are in the Philippines, some in churches and others in the hands of private collectors.

Cuevas has also illustrated publications such as The Prayer Book, for which he made three altarpieces: “The Last Supper,” “The Resurrection” and “The Virgin of Guadalupe.”

Undoubtedly, this Oaxacan will continue to inspire with his work, just as he has been inspired by great masters such as Da Vinci, Tintoretto, Siqueiros and Antonio Huerta.


Published in El Tecolote.