Lawrence Zúñiga Batista - Baracoa Cuba, 1940. Living and working in Santiago de Cuba. Self-taught naive painter of Cuba’s natural beauty and Afro Cuban culture, but primarily Santería's pantheon of Orishas. Member of the UNEAC – Unión Nacional de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba. In the last three decades he exhibited his work on countless occassions in- and outside of Cuba. From the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela and the former Soviet-Union, to France, Germany and the United States of America. He also illustrated many publications of which some are now quite hard to find. Although he's not as known and doesn't receive the same recognition as most of his peers who mainly reside in Havana, he definitely is an authentic grand master of Cuban naive art.
Santería has its roots in the African Yoruba culture that spread to the Americas and the Caribic during the slave trade. It is based on the relationship between the Earth and the Spiritual World of which the latter is formed by a trinity that symbolizes the Supreme Being:
Olodumare – Creator of the Universe.
Olorun – the Sun that ensures continuity on Earth.
Olofin – Creator of Animal and Man.
From within this unity, the Orishas – or Santos as they are also called – are being sent to help people along their path in life. Each Orisha has its own characteristics, own colors, symbols and offerings. Each one even has its own day of feast, comparable to Catholic Saints. This mixture of Catholicism and Yoruba belief is the result of the forced assimilation of the slaves by the Catholic Church; the slaves adopted a Saint to each of their Orishas, thus having no need to abandon their own beliefs. There are no churches in Santería. People celebrate at home when a Orisha has his or her day of feast. Usually, an altar in the corner of the living room is dedicated to his or her personal Orisha.
Lawrence was born and raised in Baracoa, a small coastal village in the far east, which for a long time was isolated from the rest of Cuba. Only a small dirt road over the mountains led to Guantánamo – the only other way to get anywhere was by sea. This didn’t change until the mid-sixties when – instead – La Farola was constructed, making travel and transport easier. Later on, after several different jobs, Lawrence moved to Santiago de Cuba where he is living and working ever since. His drawings and paintings are scattered around the world and the exact location of most is unknown; Lawrence never bothered to keep track. Luckily he photographed a cross-section of his early work before selling them.
For the ignorant outsider his work seems fairly general at first glance. Most don’t know how to deal with the fierce colors or the childish outlines, responding most of the time that his work lacks depth. However, without background knowledge of Santería and Lawrence's role and influence in Cuban naive art – or even naive art as a whole – one doesn’t pay the man the respect he certainly deserves. Strangely enough, artists who make it to fame and fortune and rely heavily on the primitive arts – usually from African origin, as in Lawrence's case – are often admired by the public for their honest perspective and approach, whilst the sources of their work are often neglected or even completely ignored. The public tends to admire the superficial; what is presented as authentic, when in fact it isn’t. One can ask oneself what is true in the world of art: the man living it or the man copying it and giving it an intellectual or popular twist? One can ask oneself what is more important: the artist having the roots and creating art through his deepest beliefs, or the one having easy access to academics, professional critics and well-known galleries that dominate the public debate and market. After almost forty years, Lawrence doesn't need to prove his skills anymore; the finesse and quality are there. He mastered his style and incorporates sincerity in every canvas he produces.
Literature Lawrence Zúñiga Batista:
La pintura primitiva y la obra de Lawrence Zúñiga by Ernesto Galban/Martha Puebla.
Scripture Universidad de Oriente, 1988.
El Negro en la Sociedad Colonial by Rafael Duharte Jiménez (Illustrations) 1988.
Catalogue: Galería de Arte Moderno. Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana 1989.
Lawrence Zúñiga: una visión del Caribe by Martha Vieiro. Revista de la Universidad de Oriente.
Santiago nr. 83 January/April 1998.
Pattakí femenino en los trípticos de Lawrence Zúñiga by Etna Sanz Pérez.
SIC: revista Literaria y Cultural. Santiago de Cuba August 2000.
La Santería: Religión Popular Cubana by Gérald Mouial. Ediciones Unión, La Habana 2002.
La Pintura Ingenua: Reino de este Mundo by Luisa María Ramírez Moreira.
Ediciones Catedral, Santiago de Cuba 2003.
Arte Mágico en Cuba, 51 Pintores Cubanos by Gérald Mouial 2004.
Baracoa de Cuba – La Magia de sus Pintores by Elexis Jesús Fernández Rubio Navarro & Rosendo Romero Suárez.
St. Augustine/Baracoa Friendship Association 2009.
Olorun by Teodoro Díaz Fabelo. Ediciones del Departamento de Folklore del Teatro Nacional de Cuba, La Habana 1960
El Monte by Lydia Cabrera. Ediciones de Ciencias Sociales, La Habana 1989
Los Orishas en Cuba by Natalia Bolívar Aróstegui. Ediciones Unión, La Habana 1990
Cultos Afrocubanos: La Regla de Ocha by Miguel Barnet. Ediciones Unión, La Habana 1995
El Ashé está en Cuba by Mirta Fernández Martínez/Valentina Porras Potts. Editorial José Martí 1998
The World of the Orishas by Arisel Arce Burguera/Armando Ferrer Castro. Editorial José Martí 2002