Cuban Performance Artist Carlos Martiel Brings His Powerful Art Back to Denver

Carlos Martiel is a Cuban performance artist whose work is charged with criticisms of society. The internationally acclaimed artist has had shows around the world — yet is now returning to Denver for an exhibition at K Contemporary. The exhibition — titled Black Bodies – White Lies — is meant to bring attention to how the United States’ social and legal systems have failed Black communities and ethnic minorities for so long.

Martiel is a fast-rising name within the performance art community. He first began creating powerful pieces over 10 years ago when he attended the National Academy of Fine Arts in Cuba. He has since displayed his work in Denver on his many ventures around the world.

Martiel’s newest exhibition was created partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the recent months have been hard on many, he shared how the spread of the virus put a halt on many of his plans.

Martiel’s solo exhibition at K Contemporary

“The pandemic meant that I couldn’t work or travel,” Martiel said in an interview with 303 Magazine, which has been translated from Spanish. “Travel is so important to my job because I perform with my body. I had to create within the walls of my studio.”

Yet despite the COVID-19 restrictions, Martiel still managed to create captivating art. He shared how the murder of George Floyd only fueled his desire to create a work that would shed light on racial issues. The piece he created within his studio — titled Fundamento — shows Martiel laying on the floor, tied up by an American flag.

“I really wanted this piece to represent how Black bodies and indigenous bodies have been treated in America throughout history,” Martiel said.

“South Body” by Carlos Martiel

Throughout all of his pieces, Martiel relives the pain that minority communities have felt upon his own body. Another work — titled South Body — shows an American flag stabbed through the skin on Martiel’s shoulder. In this piece, he hopes to convey how white supremacy was created to justify slavery as being acceptable — as well as shed light on how undocumented immigrants are being impacted within the US today. Also on display at the gallery is the very flag that was used in Martiel’s performance.

While the exhibition runs for another month, Martiel himself was able to perform live at K Contemporary for a one time show. His performance was broadcast live Saturday in RiNo, History Colorado and the Daniels and Fisher Tower for Night Lights Denver. While the performance was fleeting, art lovers can still catch a glimpse of some of his previous performances which are available for viewing on screens throughout the exhibition.

Black Bodies – White Lies is on display at K Contemporary through September 12. If you would like to visit, make sure to reserve an entry online. K Contemporary is located at 1412 Wazee Street, Denver. To follow along with Carlos Martiel, you can visit his website or his Instagram

Photos by Barbara Urzua