Mella, a town in southeastern Cuba, is the home of El Grupo Bayate, a cooperative of 20 self-taught oil painters working in the arte naif tradition, who support each other socially and creatively. The group was formed in 1994 by Luis Joaquin “El Panadero” (The Baker) Rodriguez Arias and his son, Luis “El Estudiante” (The Student) Rodriguez, to organize local painters, promote their work, and enrich the Mella community through the arts.
Arte Naif, or Naïve Art, is not the work of classically trained artists, but folk artists who paint for the love of self expression. The men and women of the cooperative come from varying backgrounds, and each artist has their own unique story to tell. In addition to their individual efforts, El Grupo Bayate has established several community programs where they share their skills and passions with others. “Proyecto Miranda” focuses on working with young painters in the community of Mella, “Proyecto Francisca” is for women artists, and “Alegria de Vivir” is for children. The objective driving all of these groups is to establish pride in and appreciation of community traditions as expressed through paintings and public murals.
Part of what informs the work of El Grupo Bayate is a reflection on common themes of the tropical landscape, agriculture, celebrations, and everyday life. Their paintings are boldly colored and representational, though not slavishly so. Many in the group paint vivid depictions of their homeland’s famously vibrant culture—music, food, and dancing are favorite themes. Altogether, the diverse members of El Grupo Bayate offer an accessible and beautiful window into life in Cuba.