Ariel Diaz Garcia, have you heard of him? If not, keep him in mind because someday he will be a household name. So who is this Ariel Diaz Garcia anyways?
Positive, Lovable, Cuban, Rasta, are just a few of the many words needed to describe Ariel. Deep and full of energy, Ariel is a force to be reckoned with in the world of Art.
Born and raised in Old Havana, Cuba in a time when the revolution was still very real and alive. Ariel grew up with his mother, Grandmother, Uncle and cousin Jacqueline. His house was like a museum, full of art, sculptor and installations created by his Uncle. However at the time he did not understand his love for art and painting, instead he enjoyed street football and playing with friends on the block.
“From a young age I was full of energy, I would come home from school, throw down my books, grab a piece of bread with oil and salt and run out the door again. It was cool to play football using bad words and swearing with friends, explains Ariel. In Cuba there is a high respect when you are in front of your elders, I could never act that way when my Grandmother was watching” he says with a giggle.
Ariel lived with his Grandmother most of his life so was heavily influenced and close to her. ” I always felt more comfortable and connected with her, says Ariel. She was a strong woman, full of love, love didn’t make her soft or weak, love made her strong.”
At the age of thirteen a life changing moment came. His cousin Jacqueline invited him to a Jamaican party just a few blocks away. Normally he didn’t like to go to parties, but this time he accepted. As they came close he saw his first dread. “There were many blacks with some facial hair, dark sunglasses, hats and boots dancing to reggae music, instantly I recognized something in myself, like from another life or something so familiar”. He saw someone smoking a pipe; at the time marijuana was considered evil and the devil. “A woman came and threw a bucket of water over those guys, they became angry screaming Bomba clot, Rastafari ! and so on, it was like nothing I heard.” It would be a moment that stuck with Ariel for life.
At first that night didn’t affect him, but slowly he could not stop replaying the scene in his head. Eventually he began to imitate the men he saw. Sailors from Jamaica would bring over records of Bob Marley’s “Natty Dread”. Ariel’s first record was “Legalize it” he would listen to it over and over with out an understanding of it’s meaning.
To the contrary of what many believe Cuba and Jamaica have major differences in culture. Jamaica is a Caribbean culture; Cuba was a communist country that acted more American or European, always trying to move up.
Reggae music was not widely accepted in Cuba; in fact it was the opposite. “It was thought that Cuban music was the only way in a Communist country” However Ariel continued to play Bob Marley on jukeboxes and blast it while waiting for the bus. Music became Ariel’s first passion; he decided to study music in the University when he graduated high school at age 17.
In 1981, the year Ariel was to begin University, he made a life altering decision, to make dreads. “You must have a reason to make dread, because everyone put you down. Growing up in a white neighborhood, if you didn’t want to comb your hair and act white you were considered crazy!” His mother would say, “If you want to be the first, you must suffer” So he continued coming into the Rasta culture but it became easier for Ariel to act as a foreigner rather then Cuban.
There were many foreigners studying in Cuba at the time from Congo, Angola, Ghana and Jamaica. “The school I began my studies eventually became a school for foreigners, all of the Cubans got pushed out to worse buildings and older schools to make room for the new. I studied bass and even began to play with a reggae band, but never learned enough before we were moved out so I began losing the interest”
Instead he would go home, sit in a rocking chair, play a record and draw. “I was full of energy that I didn’t quite understand says Ariel.” So he began going to a local culture house where a teacher helped develop him. The following year he applied for art school. “It was an classic style art school that only accepted 30 to 31 students a year. First time I tested I didn’t make it, the second year I made it in the top four.”
So his art career began. Taking inspiration from Picasso, Cubism and Rasta life Ariel developed a style of his own. He began selling his work to foreigners more and more. Including a repeating buyer Akito Ide an art collector from Tokyo. The Cubans admired his work, but none could afford to buy a painting, tourists were his main audience.
“Many foreigners think that Rasta man sit in park all day, smoking very seriously, but not me I would joke full of energy and show my work” Many other students who normally didn’t like his work began accepting it because so many foreigners did. ” There is a soft racism in Cuba, people joke about color, ‘oh here comes a black woman Ariel now’s your time!’, but if a white woman were to come by she is not for me. No one is willing to admit to racism, but everyone has it” Ariel explains.
Fast forward fifteen years, Ariel now lives in Sweden with his Swedish wife Anna. ” I came to Sweden with a Cuban mentality, with a big background and lots of work” Ariel explains. It was a strange transition that he is still working on. “Before I came my style grew over to collage, It was like I was preparing myself for something I didn’t know would happen”
Here in Sweden Ariel works mainly in collage with drawings, paintings and video art. “Every piece has a meaning.” At first stage it was about Rasta life and the Cuban revolution, but when he moved over seas he wanted to focus on international problems that his new audience could relate to. First came a stage about Swedish society and it’s obsession with “korv” also known as sausage. But now Ariel has found a powerful niche in the controversial topic of Women trafficking.
“It was something you saw a lot of in Cuba, Italian men coming, paying women to come to Italy, tricking them into becoming sex slaves” It sparked a low flame in him that would eventually become a burning passion to help expose these men. ” It wasn’t until I saw the Swedish Queen talking about trafficking that it clicked, most of these people are all around us, in suits and ties walking the streets as normal”
Soon Ariel will release a short film about trafficking using art and collage to tell the tale. Having had exhibitions in Miami, Spain, Stockholm and many more. His goal is to have exhibitions in MUMA, NYC and all over the world. If you have not seen Ariel’s work check out his website www.arieldiazgarcia.com . Until next time, keep your eyes open for this up and coming artist.
//C Lee Olin