With Juan Carlos Alvarez Miranda in Cuba

Juan Carlos for BLOG.png

In 2014 I was among a group of artists and arts professionals who traveled to Havanna, Cuba on the occasion of the exhibition and related symposia, African American Artists and Abstraction at the National Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibition was organized by American artist and curator, Ben Jones who over the years has made voluminous trips to Cuba. In addition to my partner, Victor Davson, the nine artists included in the exhibit were Nanette Carter, Willie Cole, Jayne Cortez, Melvin Edwards, Bill Hutson, Ben Jones, Senga Nengudi and Howardena Pindell. The exhibition was dedicated to the poet, activist and performance artist Jayne Cortez.

Prior to traveling, I googled “are there Buddhists in Cuba?” and found that yes, there were, but they were less than .1% of the population and practiced privately in their homes. At the time, I had been practicing Zen meditation for several years at a local Zendo and thought it would be interesting to sit with some Buddhists in Havanna.

 Soon after our arrival in Havanna, after one of the first welcoming events—a fashion show featuring both Cuban and American designers and models—we spilled out onto the street and I found myself in a small group where I met my first local artist—Juan Carlos Alvarez Miranda. He was excited at the arrival of the Americans. He asked me out of the blue if I knew the artist Victor Davson and I said, to his astonishment, yes—he’s my partner and he’s right over there. He had seen the catalog for the exhibition and saw that Victor was showing paintings on LP record album covers. Juan Carlos too painted on record album covers and was eager to meet him. I said I would introduce them, but first I asked if he knew of any Buddhists in Havanna. To my astonishment, he answered yes, I’m a Buddhist. “Where do you practice?”, I asked. “In my apartment, would you like to join me?”

A few days later, as we had arranged, Juan Carlos met me at our hotel and, along with Brenda, a friend in our group who also had a meditation practice, accompanied us via taxi about thirty minutes outside of the city limits to his apartment. He practiced a form of Buddhism called Nichiren, which I had not heard of but since became aware that it is the form of Buddhism that Tina Turner practices and was featured in a scene of the biopic based on her life “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”  Central to the practice, founded by the 13th century monk, Nichiren, is the chant nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Juan Carlos, Brenda and I sat on cushions on the floor in front of a simple altar and chanted nam-myoho-renge-kyo for an hour. Afterwards, Juan Carlos introduced us to his two 11-year old twin boys, showed us some of his paintings on album covers and other works on paper. I purchased three of them and am honored to share one of them on the HarryLouWorksOnPaper shop.

For the rest of our stay in Havanna, Juan Carlos was our unofficial guide and gentle, helpful companion. We stayed in touch for a short time through an intermediary, but before too long I stopped hearing from him, which was not unusual given the difficulty of communications within Cuba.

Image title:
Untitled, no date
Gouache on cardboard
9 x 14 inches

Price: $85 | Visit our Shop to purchase. 

Cicely Cottingham