Born in 1983 in Cuba, Reynier Leyva Novo is a visionary sculptor in contemporary art, known for his thought-provoking creations. Novo’s work challenges ideologies, scrutinizes symbols of authority, and explores the intricate web of historical narratives. His artistic journey has been marked by a relentless quest for truth, freedom of expression, and an exploration of the complex history of Cuba and the Caribbean.
Photo by Freddy Cedeno, courtesy of POST Houston.
Novo weaves together history, sociology, and anthropology with cutting-edge technology to craft sculptures, multimedia installations, and conceptual pieces that captivate viewers on multiple levels. His art serves as a mirror, reflecting the psychological and sociological impact of complex historical issues.
One of Novo’s art projects, “The Weight of History” (2014-2015), involved using software to quantify the mass and volume of ink used to print key ideological texts from five 20th-century totalitarian regimes, including Cuba. By assigning a physical weight to these texts, Novo sheds light on the material aspects of political ideologies.
What sets Novo apart is his unwavering dedication to using art for political activism. He actively participates in the 27N movement, a grassroots Cuban movement advocating for freedom of expression and identity among young artists.
In 2022, Novo and his family relocated to Houston, Texas, marking a new chapter in his career. He began a residency as a Smithsonian Institution Artist Research Fellow at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. This research extends his exploration of the transatlantic slavery system, its racial dimensions, and cultural diversity. Novo’s art bridges different aspects of history and culture, prompting viewers to confront uncomfortable truths.
Novo’s art has earned its place in collections worldwide, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and the Pérez Art Museum Miami, among others. His work transcends borders, resonating globally, and addressing universal themes.
One of Novo’s creations, “What it is, what it has been,” is a monumental sculpture demanding contemplation. It reinterprets the statue of José Martí in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, a symbol of Cuban nationalism and independence. Novo takes a replica of the statue’s head and applies 382 layers of overlapping paint, gradually eroding Martí’s iconic image. This deconstruction challenges fixed narratives and associated ideologies.
Monuments, as Novo highlights, shape collective memory and reinforce power structures. In times of cultural and political upheaval, monuments are often the first targets of change, as societies redefine their identity and values. Novo’s “What it is, what it has been” counters this process, revealing how revolutionary origins of national memory can be used to maintain the status quo and suppress dissent.
Novo’s journey underscores art’s power to challenge prevailing narratives, confront historical truths, and demand change. His commitment to the 27N movement and exploration of complex issues in the Caribbean and Cuba demonstrate how art can catalyze social and political transformation.