Gustavo Pérez Monzón, right, with students and parents at a session of the workshop at Sweetwater Elementary School in Miami.
Photo: Marlene Martínez, courtesy CIFO

His 2015 exhibition at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes was one of the hits of the Havana Biennial season. But for many years, Gustavo Pérez Monzón focused less on making art than on teaching it, largely at the Academia Morelense de las Artes (Fine Arts Academy of Morelos State) in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

In conjunction with the recent Miami presentation of his Havana exhibition, Gustavo Pérez Monzón: Tramas at CIFO Art Space, the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO)sponsored a workshop, led by Pérez Monzón, for young students at a Miami elementary school.

Sweetwater students preparing materials for installation in their art project.
Photo: Marlene Martínez, courtesy CIFO

“Gustavo Pérez Monzón has had a long career as a teacher, which started at a young age in Cuba and continued at the start of the 1990s in Mexico, where today he is one of the founding directors of the Centro Morelense de las Artes,” said Eugenio Valdés Figueroa, director and chief curator of CIFO.

A workshops with children led by Gustavo Pérez Monzón in Jaruco, Havana, Cuba at the beginning of 1980s, as documented in the short film Diálogos (Dialogues), directed by Jorge Sotolongo, Sr.
Courtesy Gustavo Pérez Monzón and CIFO

“At the start of the 1980s, when he was working with his fellow artist Ricardo Rodríguez Brey in the Casa de Cultura de Jaruco, in Havana, Pérez Monzón had already developed this type of workshop with children. Some of the exercises in structure and space that he presented at Sweetwater Primary School in Miami have much in common with the ones that he developed at that early stage.”

In a new video about the Sweetwater workshop, Pérez Monzón shared his thoughts on teaching art to children.

Gustavo Pérez Monzón installing his work Hilos at CIFO Art Space
Photo: Yoandri Hernández, courtesy CIFO

“I think an introduction needs to be given—an emotional introduction, an introduction where the students understand the basic elements,” he explained. “Although they don’t necessarily have to have clarity over what it is they want to develop. There is an unknown space where people need to begin to find out what they want to do and develop.”

Sweetwater students in an exploratory phase of the workshop.
Photo: Marlene Martínez, courtesy CIFO

The workshop, “The Line Within the Space,” took place in April and May of this year. It began with the students exploring lines by taping lengths of thread to the wall in geometric patterns.

From there they moved to three-dimensional structures, creating works that were not unlike Vilos, 1981/2015, one of Pérez Monzón’s signature installation works.

“With this project, it was very important to me that the students understood structural integrity,” Pérez Monzón explained in the video. “They need to understand that they can create tension within a structure,” using “points, supports from where they can build this structure.”

Installation view of Vilos at CIFO Art Space in the exhibition Gustavo Pérez Monzón: Tramas.
Photo: David Almeida, courtesy CIFO

For the children’s art teacher, Marlene Martínez, the workshop “allowed us to give the way we were teaching a much more playful atmosphere. She added that “beyond what I’ve tried to explain to them in an academic way, all the concepts came together with the experience they had here—the symmetry, the balance, the rhythm.”

In addition to thread, the students used natural materials—painted seed pods, leaves, and grasses—to create their works.

Sweetwater students preparing natural materials for use in their art project.
Photo: Marlene Martínez, courtesy CIFO

As Valdés Figueroa noted, the Miami students’ project bears a striking resemblance to the work of the children in Diálogos, a short film that poetically documents one of Pérez Monzón’s earlier art-making workshops in Jaruco. Directed by Jorge Sotolongo, Sr., the film records an expansive, highly experimental approach to art that sent students out to explore the countryside.

Here are three videos: Kids Making Art, the 8-minute video about the CIFO workshop; Diálogos, the 10-minute video about Pérez Monzón’s art-making workshop in the 1980s; and a 5-minute walk-through of Gustavo Pérez Monzón: Tramas at the CIFO Art Space.