Maddy Mitchell / Gavel Media

Mariano and His Macho-Free World

To supplement its newest exhibit on Mariano Rodriguez, The McMullen Museum of Art hosted an online lecture on Thursday, Sept. 30 titled, “Mariano: The Woman and The Rooster” that examined his popular depictions of roosters, women, and Cuba.

Dr. Carol Damian, an expert in Latin American art, led the discussion from her Miami home, accompanied by a computer-generated beach in the background, ready to educate the small audience on Mariano and how he was “the essence of Cubanness.”

Born and raised in Cuba, Mariano was a self-taught artist with sparse official education.

“It was perhaps [his] trip to Mexico,” Damian said, “…where we really began to see his career take flight.” From then, Mariano took inspiration from Mexican muralists and established his art as a prominent aspect of Cuban culture. Although never delineating a distinct style, Mariano’s rooster motif became an essential part of his pieces. Damian asserts, however, that Mariano “was so much more than [the rooster].”

Damian went on to describe how the rooster was not just used for colorful creations.

“Mariano himself described the rooster as an opportunity for plastic experimentation… at every important moment he has painted a rooster,” she said.

Mariano’s rooster became a self-reflecting mirror that displayed the feelings of the artist throughout his extensive career, which spanned six decades. Whether it was depicted as beheaded or strutting proudly through banana trees, the rooster was a crucial part of Mariano’s paintings.

Despite the rooster’s prominence, any historian, including Damian, would be remiss to mention its significant counterpart: the woman. Damian explained the deep-rooted religious stories that feature a proud, masculine figure in need of a loving, nurturing woman and asserted, “It’s a perfect combination, right? The rooster and woman.”

Now combing both rooster and woman, Damian showed some of Mariano’s pieces and described the essence the two created.

In “Rooster with Woman”, Mariano depicts a woman lovingly holding a rooster. This painting sent Damian into a discussion of Mariano’s three wives and daughter, all of whom had a lasting impact on Mariano’s depictions of women as beautiful, caring, and powerful.

Later, Damian showcased “Couple with Oxen” in which the woman holds seeds, ready to plant and provide for her family. “She is a source of knowledge in… the sacred land of Cuba,” Damian suggests, which demonstrates Mariano’s unconventional appreciation of women.

In Mariano’s mid-20th century Cuba, the dominating hyper-masculine “machismo” continually discriminated against women and femininity. Mariano, however, worked to combat and destroy this macho lifestyle.

Damian described this determination and how “He saw the beauty of the women…their association with the land and the future.”

These women were champions of nature for Mariano, and this can be seen in paintings like “Mujer Con Pinas” and “Fruits and Reality”, where women are at the forefront, guarding and protecting Cuban land. This connection between women and nature proved fundamental to the understanding of Mariano and contributed to the greater good of Cuban society.

Exhibit curator, Elizabeth Goizueta, described the current Cuba as “very much a matriarchal culture…[with] priestesses… and the fluidity of gender.”

To think that Mariano and his paintings did not contribute to this societal shift would be a big mistake. “He was proud of the land and the women who became a part of the creative process,” Damian said when discussing Mariano’s impact.

Clearly, Mariano Rodriguez’s paintings had a profound effect on Cuban culture and sparked a revolutionary change. His depictions of the woman and the rooster created a balance between masculine and feminine and portrayed his appreciation of the powerful, loving, and beautiful characteristics of women. His paintings are cemented in history as societal changemakers that are “much more than the rooster.”

The Mariano Exhibit at The McMullen Museum of Art runs until Dec. 5, 2021.

Spends too much time on crossword puzzles. Can make a mean chocolate chip pancake. Proponent of eating the casing on brie.