Mella, a village in southeastern Cuba, is the home of artist collective El Grupo Bayate: some 35 self-taught artists who support each other socially and creatively. The group was formed in 1994 by Luis Joaquin “ El Panadero” Rodriguez Arias, who passed on this painting tradition to his son, known as “El Estudiante.”
The group is by no means your typical artist collective. It includes a policeman, a fisherman, an accountant, and a baker, to name just half of El Grupo Bayate. Together, these seemingly disparate roles complement each other and advance one another’s artistic goals. El Grupo Bayate has long been committed to enriching their community, whether through teaching art classes to children or organizing community-driven creative projects. They hope their art will create a sense of pride and belonging and are eager to promote awareness about the roots and history of painting in their town.
Part of what informs the work of El Grupo Bayate is a reflection on common themes of village life, the tropical landscape, agriculture, celebrations, and everyday activities from the Cuba they live in and grew up with. Paintings are boldly colored and representational. Many in the group paint vivid depictions of their homeland’s famously vibrant culture—music, food, and dancing are favorite themes – and some of the artists depict traditional voodoo ceremonies as well. Altogether, the diverse members of El Grupo Bayate offer an accessible, and beautiful, window into life in Cuba.