Engel Leonardo, the journey of the Creole artist’s works around the world

Dominican art travels the world. The style of the new creators has caught the attention of important galleries and cultural centers.

One of them is Engel Leonardo, an integral artist who leaves his stamp. One of his pieces has been acquired for the permanent collection of the prestigious Reina Sofia Museum in Spain, as well as the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Born in Baní, in the south of the country in 1977, and a graduate of the Faculty of Arts of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD), he has lived in Santo Domingo and from here his works have walked through important spaces internationally since 2014.

It was in Teorética, Costa Rica, that the journey began and then he was invited for the first time to ARCO Madrid months later, which helped him to project his work and “to build a healthy network of friendship and work of which I am very proud and grateful,” the 44-year-old artist told Diario Libre.

The piece “Pisos”, 2018, was selected during the ARCO Madrid contemporary art fair by the Museum’s director, Manuel Borja-Villel, the head of exhibitions, Teresa Velázquez, and the head of collections, Rosario Peiró.

“What makes up this creation are figures based on the study of Taino symbols. I prefer to call them native peoples because they were not only Tainos. My work is the transmission of African and indigenous knowledge through contemporary art,” she says.

In addition to the Reina Sofia Museum collection, his art is in the Guggenheim Museum (New York), with the piece “Antillas” (2013).

He has also been presented at the Museum of Modern Art of Santo Domingo, the National Center of Plastic Arts (Paris) and the Kadist Foundation (Paris-San Francisco).

The most recent have been solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art MAC Niteroi (Rio de Janeiro) and Kunsthalle Lissabon (Lisbon).

How did Engel Leonardo manage to get there? In an interview with Diario Libre he explains. “This set of exhibitions and achievements are adding up so that finally this work manages to enter the (prestigious) selection, but it also has to do with the fact that since 2014, when my work begins to be seen outside the Dominican Republic, other acquisitions begin to be generated,” comments the artist from Banilejo.

Leonardo proudly says that his visual work began to attract attention immediately, as already in 2017 he had his first individual in Madrid.

“I think it has to do with the relevance and validity of the discourses I develop from my work and research and how these relate to current conversations and discussions about aesthetics and contemporary art in the region and the world,” he refers to DL about the shows in those countries.

He defines his creative activity as “the relationship between the human and history; architecture and material culture are some of my central interests,” he says. His production is usually based on research on modern tropical architecture, histories repressed by modernity, and the transmission of indigenous and African knowledge through objects generally seen as handcrafted, folkloric or ethnographic.

Experts’ considerations
According to Engel Leonardo, the work “Pisos” is a journey through the native peoples of the Antilles and the Americas and was selected for its critical implications on colonialism, modernity and the recognition of the native peoples of the Americas and the Antilles. As well as for the Museum’s interest in expanding the Latin American art collection and the inclusion of new generations of artists. “It questions the celebrations related to the figure of Columbus, the Columbus Lighthouse and the celebrations of colonial ideas…”, he points out. The three works that make up “Pisos” will be featured in future exhibitions of the permanent collection in the Museum’s Madrid galleries.

Likewise, the work acquired by the Guggenheim Museum, titled “Antillas” 2013, was selected by curator Pablo León de la Barra during his visits to the Dominican Republic for its implicit discourses on modernity, Afro-Caribbean aesthetics, and the study of the archipelago’s endemic and native flora.

This acquisition is part of the USB Map Global Art Initiative program that complements the museum’s collection with new works from Latin America and other regions of the world. This sculptural ensemble will be presented in the different venues of the Guggenheim, New York, Bilbao, among others.

The artist affirms that it is possible to make a living from art and invites new artists to maintain their essence and promote their work. “To become part of these collections at the age of 40 makes me very excited, for the fact of putting my work in dialogue with other artists of the region and the world, both contemporary and historical, as well as for the possibility of opening doors for the work of Dominican artists to be recognized internationally,” he concludes.

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