Manuel López Oliva

Manuel López Oliva

Manzanillo, Granma, 1947

Phone: (+53) 7 862-6815

He was born in Manzanillo, at the East of Cuba. He finished studying painting in 1969 at the National Art School, the highest level one at that time. Nowadays he performs as a consulting professor of that institution as well as in the Superior Art University and the Art History Faculty of Havana University. He is member of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba and has been the President of the International Association of Painters (AIAP). His opinion has been considerate in juries of several art saloons, biennials and contests. He has given lots of conferences and courses about art in numerous cultural centers, museums, and universities in many countries. He has made illustrations and covers of some books and magazines. Besides he has founded different cultural companies in Cuba. His work has been exhibited in numerous Biennials, Auctions, Art Fairs and International Exhibitions. The most important Institution Collections of Cuba have paintings belonging to him as well as several important international collectors.

Main Personal Exhibitions

2019  “Open Studio”. XIII Biennial Havana. Havana Cuba.

2018  “Open Scene”. Center N´Namdi of Contemporary Art of Detroit, Michigan, United States.

2015  “Changing of mask” Interactive Project,  Zona Franca. 12th Havana’s Biennial. San Carlos de La Cabaña Fortress.

2013   López Oliva Panoramic Exhibition. Kitzbühel Country Club, Tirol, Austria.

2012   “Mimesis”. Anthological exhibition. National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana.

2010   (Desire’s paradox). Inca Garcilaso Cultural Center, Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

2006   Cuba, Myth and Masquerade. John Slade Ely House  Contemporary Art Center, New Haven, United States.

2003   Cuba and Desire’s Theatre. The Bates College Museum of Art, Lewiston, Maine, United States.

1995    On stage. Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, Havana.

1993    No catalog. La Acacia Gallery, Havana.

1987    Pictoric Signs. 13 Musas Club Gallery, Szczecin, Poland.

1983    From my cathedral. Exhibition at Culture’s House, Malmö, Suecia.

1981    Image and metaphor. City Gallery, Vilnius, Lituania.

1976    The other portrait. Colombia National University Gallery, Bogota, Colombia.

1975    Manuel Lopez Oliva, an insular artist. International Art Exhibition. Royal Gallery. Edimburg, Scotland, U. K.

1973    Eros, myth and history. Lumière Gallery, Paris, France.

Main International Collective Exhibitions

2016   Latinamerican and Caribbean Arts horizons. Americas Development Bank, Sao Pablo, Brasil.

2015   Viva Arte Viva. Present Cuban Artists. Deputies Chamber Cultural Center, Brazilia, Brazil.

2012   Fans Forever. Selected Cuban Artists Fans. Arts + Design Museum, Freedom Tower, Miami, Florida, United States.

2009   Bye-bye Polaroid. Centre d’Art Contemporain de Basse Normandie, France.

2006   Lisbon International Contemporary Art Fair (ARCOlisboa-06).

2006   International Selected Art Exhibition. Toronto, Canada.

2002   14 Cuban Painters. FP Gallery. Lisbon, Portugal.

1999  Malecón Cultural Project. Extremaduran and Latin American Museum of International Contemporary Art, Extremadura, Spain.

1998   “Cubanías. Cuban paintings. National Museum of Fine Arts, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

1997   Contemporary Cuban Painting’s exhibition. Margarita Island Culture House, Venezuela.

1996   International Contemporary Art Fair (ARCO´96), Madrid, Spain.

1995   Contemporary Cuban Art’s exhibition. Museum of Modern Art, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

1994   AIAP’s Latinamerican and  Caribbean Meeting, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

1990   Cuban Painting exhibition. Italian-Latin American Institute, Rome, Italy.

1987   Painting and Plener Biennial, Szczecin, Poland.

1983   Latinamerican Painting Exhibition. Macondo Art Gallery, Stockholm, Sweden.

1974   International Art Exhibition. Royal Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.

1973   Young Artists Salon. Grand Palais, Paris, France.

1969   Micro Painting Salon, Lumière Gallery, Paris, France.

Other National Collective Exhibitions

2010   Cuban Portraits. Canvas interventions on photographic images by Luis Areñas. Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, Havana.

Plastic Arts National Council’s collection Visual Arts Developing Center, Havana.

1998   Homage to dance. Havana Gallery, Havana.

1998   Seductions. Cuban Art Master’s Fans. Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, Havana.

1996   1st Contemporary Cuban Art Salon. National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana.

1983   Exhibition of the Young Latinamerican Writers and Artists Meeting. Americas’ House, Havana.

1972   Latinamerican and Caribbean Arts Meeting). Americas’ House, Havana.

1971   Cuba-Chile Exhibition. Americas’ House, Havana.

1970   Salon 70. National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana.


2016   Theater of operations” installative performance. Cuba Pavilion, Havana.

Performance experimental “Mascaronte” (“Mascaronte” experimental performance). Dance Center. 11th Havana Biennial.

2012   Performance combinatorio y performance Retrátese con arte (Combinatorial performance and “Portrait yourself with art” performance).

2009   10th Havana Biennial, Havana.

2008   Performance “Escrito sobre la piel” (“Written on the skin” performance). Teresa Carreño Theatre, Body Ar World Meeting, Caracas, Venezuela.

2007   Performance “Escrito sobre la piel”, junto al grupo teatral El Ciervo Encantado, durante la muestra de Homenaje a Frida Kahlo y Diego Rivera (“Written on the skin” Performance, played with “El Ciervo Encantado” Theatre Group, during Homage Exhibition to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera). Benito Juárez House, Havana.

1992  Performance “La toma del cielo por asalto” (Heaven’s capture by assault). Espace Carpeaux, La Defensa, Paris, France.

1983  Performance Gestal (Gestal Performance). Culture’s House, Stockholm, Sweden.

Prizes and Mentions

1980  Honorable Mention, “Carlos Enríquez” National Salon, Havana, Cuba.

1974  2nd Prize, International Art Exhibition, Royal Gallery,  Edinburgh, Scotland.

1973  Honorable Mention, Young Artists Salon (Biennial), Grand Palais des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France.

1972  Press Club’s Prize. International Art Fair, Lund Museum, Sweden.

1969  1st Prize, Micro Painting Salon, Lumière Gallery, Paris, France.

1968  Adam Montparnasse Art Prize, May Salon, Paris, France.

Awards earned:

National Culture Award. Cuba’s Culture Ministry.

Guy Pérez Cisneros Art Criticism National Prize, to the life’s work. National Council of Plastic Arts.

Artistic Merit Diploma. Arts University of Cuba.

1976  International Prize to the most relevant Art Critic. L’Humanité Newspaper, Paris, France.

Read More

Critical analysis of his ouevre.


Critic of art, poet and Cuban architect. He is curator of the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center and the Havana Biennial.

“Lopez Oliva deliberately accentuates the specific decorative —remember this, if you want to understand some of his works— with all esthetic intention, just as the man and the woman, in modern life, accentuate hair color, ornaments, endless modalities of clothing and footwear, tattooed drawings, piercings, as resources to confuse the functional with the beautiful.

His painting is not aggressive; neither is it complacent or sweet. It is closer to the meditative and rational, reflective side than the emotional sphere. It delves into one of the central issues of debate in the contemporary world: morality. The changes that have taken place in recent decades confirm the urgency of paying attention to the ethical question, by whatever means within our reach. And art has that possibility from a situation quite different from that of other humanistic disciplines. Notable Cuban artists and intellectuals have also exploited this possibility in the past.

By means of backdrops, curtains, stages, costumes, masks, the artist knits a web of symbols easy to decode by the observer. He wants to participate of the current debate from a modest position, without harshly or speculation; stimulated by the uncertainty that this matter provokes nowadays between people, and besides he texts our capacity of resistance. His works make a pact with subtleness, with the edges of certain ideals struggling for human improvement, openly opposing opportunism and triviality. Hence their ambivalence, the game of appearances hidden within the painting turning proscenium into mock reality (mocking the piece itself) according to post-conceptual logic in contemporary art.

His canvases are halfway between iconography and metaphor —closer to the later, in my opinion— between description and symbol, between graphic synthesis and baroque framework. They may be eclectic, but they are indeed pieces inserted within a rather eclectic culture —not as baroque as it is generally believed—. Carnivals paraphernalia and theatre hold some of our main coordinates as a society.

This has provided new raw material for his work, although none of it is totally alien or novel to him, it is still surprising. In the hand of the artist, it turns into a reality full of amazement according to the lezamian canon (allusion the Cuban writer José Lezama Lima). Like a fish in the water, the artist moves with ease capturing, from various perspectives, essential and universal features of the stage displayed before him. It is sometimes circus, metaphorically speaking, and from these contexts, characters arise essentially enunciating or suggesting what happens so hastily around them. A contextual painter imbued with sensibilities formed in the historical dimension of art and culture: Manuel Lopez Oliva, a painter immersed in the history, with an eye for the unique and the universal, looking for artistic ways to capture it and transcend it.”

Taken from: Nelson Herrera Ysla. Reflexiones de tanto mirar (Reflexions resulting from looking so much). Ediciones Ávila, Ciego de Ávila, Cuba. 2004. Pp. 112-119.

Art critic

“López Oliva’s art offers so many dimensions of meaning and sensuality, on exquisitely textured canvas, that it would seem that these are not painted pieces. Each figure is characterized by embroidered bands highlighting the subjects. And at the same time, these show colorful patterns that look as if they were the result of different layers of fabric overlapping. As shocking as his wonderfully dense style is, it’s necessary to point out that it never threats our sense of that which is classic.”

Taken from: Donna Gold. “Cuba y el teatro del deseo” (Cuba and the theatre of desire). Magazine Art New England/ Dec. 2003-Jan-2004. Brigthon, MA. EE.UU.

JORGE BERMÚDEZ (La Habana, Cuba)

Art critic, narrator, chairman of the Department Conrado Massaguer of Havana University.

“López Oliva’s most recent painting is perfectly aware of this reality. This may be the reason why its new topics —apparently disoriented within a mist of quotes— merge as if from a baroque dream recently acknowledged: representation of life like theatre.Present both in Cuban carnivals as well as in the painter’s first artistic experiences, masks —now back— claim their space. There’s an exception though: they do not represent but signify. Wearing a mask is not hiding, but recapping, recycling codes without paying copy a tribute. Torn apart within their own time and space, referents produce their originals in the distance. Manipulated codes emerge only with meditation and knowledge. Staging arts make way for actor’s intimacy, for art’s impunity to deconstruct relations. The mask becomes sovereign, and that is like becoming emotion.”

Taken from: Jorge Bermúdez. “De catedrales y máscaras” (About cathedrals and masks) Opus Habana Magazine, Vol. III, no. 1, 1999, Pp. 40-47


Historian, essayist and poet.

“Sensual and intellectual, contemporary and classic. Those are the heroic themes and tropical textures of Manuel LópezOliva’s work that represents a series of eclectic, hybrid, and often paradoxical ideas. His work conveys a feeling of longing for the utopia, as strong as the exuberant senses of illusion and hope that it evokes. Finished with unmistakably Caribbean symbols such as miniature mangos or palm trees, the splendidly embroideredcurtains and costumes embracing the pieces’ central images reveal simple identity codes that many among the American public usually associate with Cuban art. Weather dealing with the archetypes of Greek and Roman mythology, the dramatic poetry of the 19th Century, Brand’sandHenrik Ibsen’s work, or the new medieval legends of carnival and masquerades, these paintings proudly confess to identify themselves with a cultural, a historic, and a social environment.”

Taken from the text for the catalogue of the exhibition under the title Manuel López Oliva. Cuba, Mito y Mascarada (Manuel López Oliva. Cuba, myth and masquerade), 2006. John Slade Ely House- Center for Contemporary Art, New Haven, EE.UU.


Art historian, dean and professor of the Faculty of Arts and Letters, Havana University.

“López Oliva’s work indicates, in turn, the poetics of the complement —if it could exist theoretically—, in the inter-textual appropriation value of everything valid as art motif, as artistic resource or as a conceptual assumption. The creator is completed by the critic and vice versa, the mask with the face, the man with the stage, the philosopher with the communicator, the classic world with the contemporary world. The complementary pairs, acting simultaneously, express themselves through images and words.”

Taken from: Kirenia Rodríguez Puerto. “La poética del desplazamiento”. (The poetics of displacement”.) Arte por Excelencias Magazine, Vol. IV, no. 13, 2012, Pp. 46-51.


Writer, essayist, curator and art critic.

“The paths of arts for López Oliva aren’t direct but ublique, resulting from a vision formed as part of his understanding of art history itself. Therefore, the painter chooses to suggest metaphors that demand the audience involvement, as if in a theatre. Because the dramatic and ritual plots in López Oliva’s painting reflected with a certain new-baroque taste, transcend linear interpretations. […] The recurrent use of masks shouldn’t be an obstacle for contemplation. On the contrary, behind them, the human soul pounds naked, its great miseries, its ups and downs. They recall and confirm, in any case, carnivalization, according to Mijail Bajtin’s theory, as a procedure to reveal essences.”

Taken from: Virginia Alberdi. “La desnudez de las máscaras”. (The nakedness of the masks). Granma Newspaper, on February 8, 2012, year 16, no. 38.

RUFO CABALLERO (La Habana, Cuba)

Art critic and essayist.

“This artist’s critical capacity allows him to recreate and review basically the whole art history, going from pointillist plucking to informal gesture, from figurative expressionism to geometrical abstraction, including virtual replica and other languages style elements, like tapestry, mosaic, or miniature; summoning in total theatre mimic, acrobatics, dance, and painting. This is skilful manner of urning innocent contemplation into a functional trap making accomplices among those rhetorical, and proving at the same time that beauty doesn’t necessarily exclude harshness.”

Taken from the text for the flyer of Lopez Oliva´s exhibition under the title Sin catálogo (Without catalogue), La Acacia Gallery, 1993.


Researcher, curator and art critic.

“López refers to the very internal process of image construction merging metaphor and symbol, classic sacredness and flesh celebration, appearance and voluntary effort of hiding in order to say, composition of held up film sequence and polysemous trope, deep poetics and provocation to look and think. Signs and games based on paradox that, in a way, express his personal philosophy about what’s human, historic, circumstantial, and eternal. Theatre of painting and performing theatre, where ugliness is a purpose and not the result, displayed in a synthetic painting that orchestrate many of the visual paths and sensitive, sensorial, and rational codes.”

Taken from “Nothing is what it seems”, main text of Mimesis exhibition’s catalogue. National Fine Arts Museum. Havana. January through April 2012.


Art critic and professor of History of the Art, Arts University (ISA).

“New-baroque is accentuated in his most recent paintings. There persist his allusions to allegories such as, the masquerade, the desire, the intangible and unspeakable nature of established cannons as opposed to life itself. Metaphors appear always in a very dense manner, and the same occurs with the presence of paradox in his characters and motives, not descriptive or superficial at all, but meant to express by means of poetic figures like innocence, veracity or appearances, stressed by the presence of enigmatic characters or drama quotations where theatrical simulation becomes predominant in themessage.”

Taken from “López Oliva in National Fine Arts Museum”. Cubarte Digital Newspaper, 1st of February 2012.

Deney Terry (La Habana, Cuba)

Art historian and curator

“Integration of painting and performance in the artistic work of López Oliva

As a general picture, it could be said that Lopez Oliva´s performances act as an extension of his painting and vice versa. They both use references and visions of fine art, literature and universal myths. Chronologically, his mature performances were preceded by his paintings, so they came to support and complement them. They assumed the inherent dynamism of theater as a way of communication. These performances are metaphorical expressions; which draw from theater by adding stage elements like curtains, costumes, and even notions of the theatrical ascetic like the well-known fourth wall and proxemics.

Lopez Oliva´s paintings have a performing intention too; they exhibit vibrant textures, artful integration of figure and background, and the creation of a certain suggestion of motion with a frontal view evocative of actors on stage. So we somehow perceive or imagine characters entering and exiting the frame-scene. In this sense, the mask is a plural symbol that suggests mutation, duality and the act of simulating through continuous changes of roles played by the characters who wear them. Another detail is that the typology of his performances seems to emerge from and blend with his paintings, but types and symbols are shown in a kind of virtual succession as it occurred in movies at the dawning of cinema. At the same time, Lopez Oliva also uses the concept of frame-window seen in digital projections and, of course, in reference to the physical frames of his paintings.

Lopez Oliva´s performances are sometimes conceived by a team of theatre specialists and choreographers. He paints on the bodies of the actors, who show hieratic postures, and convey them to the small-scale “pictorial and theatrical plays”. The integration of his paintings and these performances is possible thanks to the insertion of other contemporary art resources as Body Art and Body Painting, as well as virtual tattoos and the digital video-projections. It is important to point out that both expressions have not only a reflexive intention but also a marked sensorial appeal. In this sense, they elegantly radiate that erotic aesthetic interest and libidinousness inherent in his pictorial poetry. In both cases, painting and performance, we can recognize a hybridity, not only cultural (as a reflection of the erudite education of the painter) but visual. He draws mythical images and symbolisms from the vast reservoir of universal art history. For the artist, the use of conceptualism is one more way of dialogue with the audiences involved in a theatrical play; he uses symbols as complex signifiers to turn the singularity of a piece into a rich source of plural and multidirectional meanings.”