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Guillermo Estrada Viera

Engraving new life into found objects

The work of Guillermo Estrada Viera is a creative combination of two completely unrelated traditions in Cuba: wood engraving and government rations. Woodcut printing has a long and rich history in Cuba, which has depended on a ration system for 50 years to manage the disbursement of goods through state-run stores. Each person receives a ration book to manage the purchase of necessities like food, kerosene, and soap.

Guillermo, a self-taught artist, learned his technique by trial-and-error, referencing the work of Cuban masters he saw in museums and publications, and on posters.  He uses recycled wood from old furniture as matrices (bases) for his woodcuts. Carving away the negative/white space from his designs leaves behind a positive image which will be inked and printed. Rather than using regular print-making paper, Guillermo prints on ration cards and other ephemera donated by family and friends. “In my work I use the used ration cards of my community and some of the products purchased with them. In this way, my work becomes a record of our daily lives,” he says. Each piece is treated with a by-product of the goods acquired with ration cards, such as oil, coffee, or kerosene.

Originally a sculptor, the lack of materials caused by the Cuban economic crisis of the 1990s forced Guillermo to turn to a new medium. Creating woodcuts from recycled materials afforded him the opportunity to transfer his carving skills to a new medium. His prints “address the conflicts, fears, and hopes of our contemporary society.” Guillermo’s prints have been exhibited at the Wifredo Lam Center for Contemporary Art in Old Havana and the Queens Museum of Art in New York City.