By Lindsey Turnbull
Artist Yonier Powery’s development as an artist has been an exciting journey to follow since his arrival in Cayman from Cuba 11 years ago. His latest exhibition, ‘Unstoppable Steps’ at the National Gallery is the culmination of a more recent focus on ceramics, having already blazed a trail in acrylic painting.
The exhibition features 19 intricately detailed ceramic and mixed media sculptures that play homage to Yonier’s familial links to both the Isle of Youth, Cuba, and in the Cayman Islands. Each piece touches on historical, ecological and emotional themes that Yonier holds dear, whimsical surreal creations that really take your breath away when you view their detail and ingenuity.
Yonier said he was deeply grateful to the National Gallery for holding this solo exhibition.
“To me, having a solo show at the National Gallery, that is my dream come true, that was my goal,” he confirmed. “The National Gallery is doing a brilliant job in exposing people to local artists and international artists as well. They are 100% behind showcasing the artists.”
Working in ceramics is his favourite technique, he advised.
“I did a lot of painting before. I actually wanted to start in ceramics from when I first arrived in Cayman, but it is a process. Painting is an easy way to start; ceramics takes more money. My paintings helped me build what I really wanted – now I have my own ceramic kiln,” he said.
Yonier, who studied in Cuba’s Academy of Art, said he felt his career was really poised for great things now and he was excited to showcase to a wider audience, globally as well as locally. The National Gallery exhibition would allow him to reach that goal, he felt.
On the preview to the opening night, a small gathering of dignitaries and well-wishers gathered to view the exhibition. Culture Minister Bernie Bush was full of praise for Yonier’s hard work.
“This is some outstanding stuff,” he stated. “This today blew me away. This is awesome. Thank you. Continue to do the good work. Continue to make the country proud.”
Imagination and emotion
The exhibition shows work from a variety of collections that he has produced over a four-year period.
“My work is representative of where I am. Through my work, people can see where I come from,” he advised.
The images of the island, the sea, turtles, iguanas and boats crop up in much of his work, and Yonier is able to capture the attention of the viewer by giving each piece his own unique quality, employing a surreal influence that sees giant tortoises carrying small houses on their backs, fish flying, whimsical characters trying to fly on fantastic machines and men precariously balanced upon giant hermit crabs.
“If a person has a different view of life, I think this is very important. I create my work from my own experiences, I don’t try and copy anybody. I am trying to share with viewers what I like and what I feel,” he advised.
In addition, there is often a historic, antique feel to his work, with Yonier able to capture a particular period of time in a piece, such is the detail he infuses in each sculpture.
“I like to include the concept of time in my work, because time is everything. It is our life,” he said.
This exhibition also pays tribute to some of Cayman’s most iconic artists, with references to Bendel Hydes and Miss Lassie in his pieces. Yonier said he felt a deep responsibility carried towards society which fueled his constant urge to create, causing him to continually seek improvement in his work.
Exhibition that resonates
William Helfrecht, the National Gallery’s Collections Coordinator, was one of the curators of the exhibition, together with Director Natalie Urquhart and Kerri-Anne Chisholm.
“We had wanted to work with Yonier for a while in terms of a solo exhibition,” he advised. “This exhibition is quite eclectic but it’s also unified in the sense that most of these pieces are maritime inspired and tracing this autobiographical journey and also a cultural journey between Cuba and Cayman. This parallel history is very familiar to a lot of families with that multi-generational and multi-cultural connection, just as with the Bay Islands. It’s a story that a lot of people can identify within the Caymanian diaspora.”
William said Yonier was multi-talented.
“He paints in acrylics, he draws, and we have displayed a small selection of ink on paper studies that are a nice counterpoint to these intricate complex sculptures,” he explained.
It’s very technically skilled and a labour of love, William said.
He furthered that Yonier’s exhibition was a very prolific output, as most of these works, although they may have been started previously, were finished this year, while the artist (along with many others) had more time during the pandemic lock down. The end result is a huge body of work on an impressive scale that will no doubt lead to even bigger and greater things for this highly talented and uniquely skilled artist.
Yonier Powery: Unstoppable Steps runs at the National Gallery until 21 January 2022