ArtWorks dedicates Cuban cultural mural in Cincinnati’s OTR neighborhood

ArtWorks, known for its transformative public art projects, is set to dedicate a vibrant new mural celebrating Cuban culture in the Over-the Rhine-neighborhood. Created under the skilled hand of renowned illustrator and artist Jorge Rodriguez Diez, the mural promises to be a testament to diversity and creativity.

The public event, scheduled for Sunday, June 23 from 1–4 p.m. at 1405 Walnut Street, promises to be a lively celebration of art and culture. Everyone is invited to join in the festivities, which will feature salsa dancing, music, specialty food options, and an opportunity to hear from Diez himself, along with the young apprentices who contributed to the mural's creation.

Jorge Rodriguez Diez, known for his striking use of color and intricate designs, shared his inspiration for the mural during an exclusive interview with Soapbox Cincinnati. His work not only beautifies urban landscapes but also serves as a powerful statement about the importance of embracing cultural diversity in our communities.

Soapbox: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind this mural?
Rodriguez-Diez: Cuba is many things, far more than one might expect from an island in the middle of the Caribbean. Among all these facets, its music stands out. I've spent a lifetime hearing—and unfortunately, I can't confirm this—that Cuban music is among the three most influential in the world, at least in the 20th century. What is clear to me is that it is a very powerful stereotype. When the world thinks of Cuba, they first think of Fidel Castro, then tobacco, and lastly, its music. However, when people think of Cubans, they immediately think of dancing, and consequently, their music. No one imagines Cubans dancing to anything other than their own music.

How does this mural reflect the community it’s placed in?
I had no choice in the selection of the place. I want to believe that there are Latinos living around there, perhaps a thoughtful Cuban looking at the cloudy sky through the window.

What impact do you hope this mural will have on the community?
I want the mural to energize passersby, making them quicken their pace, walk more joyfully, and realize that the city and its buildings exude music.

Are there any future plans for more public art projects in the area?
I hope to actively participate in the cultural life of Cincinnati, both as a spectator and through active involvement.

What significance does the mural hold for you personally?
It has great significance. I must say there are Cubans much more Cuban than I am. My family comes from northern Spain and is not very inclined to dance or music with African roots. Personally, I feel more at home with rain and melancholy. But I have a certain pride in my country and share with many Cubans my condition as an emigrant. The mural, although it may not seem like it, is a mural of survival. Cubans, far from Cuba, amplify the power of national symbols. The main protagonist of the mural is Celia Cruz, or rather her symbol. She brought her rhythm to the United States, planted it here, and here it bore fruit. She is a flag of Cuban identity in the United States and, therefore, synonymous with successful integration carried out with pride.

Can you describe any particular symbolism or imagery used in the mural?
The symbols are clear: social, economic, and cultural integration, contributing the immaterial because the emigrant brings nothing material. Celia Cruz, is a symbol of that transplanted intangible heritage. Music as an integrating element, sugar as a symbol of a less harsh past. Color as an expression of the Caribbean.

Jens Rosenkrantz, Colleen Houston and Jorge Rodriguez Diez at The Annex Gallery at Pendleton Art Center
For more information about ArtWorks and their upcoming projects, visit their website and follow them on social media. The Annex Gallery hosts timely and socially relevant exhibitions of local and international artists. Check here for exhibitions.
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Read more articles by Kareem A. Simpson.

Raised in the inner city of Covington, Kentucky, Kareem Simpson is an author, innovator, community enthusiast, military veteran, serial entrepreneur, foodie and lover of all things creative.