Cuban Photographer Jesse A. Fernández Celebrated in Three KC Locations
Nelson-Atkins, KC Public Library, American Jazz Museum Exhibits Offer Career Highlights
Kansas City, Mo. Sept. 7, 2016–The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City has organized a free, three-venue exhibition of the photographs of Jesse A. Fernández. Cuba Bound: Photographs by Jesse A. Fernández opens on Sept. 15 at the Nelson-Atkins and at the Kansas City Public Library Central Library, and Sept. 16 at the American Jazz Museum in the Gem Theater. All photographs are on loan from the Jesse A. Fernández archive, under the direction of France Mazin Fernández, his widow. The exhibition, the first and largest compilation of his work ever presented in the U.S., is curated by Jane Aspinwall, Associate Curator, Photography at the Nelson-Atkins.
Fernández was born in Cuba but spent most of his life in exile in Europe, Latin America and the United States. His photographs reveal his extraordinary ability to connect with the expressive essence of each place. Throughout his lifetime, Fernández photographed the artists, performers, dancers and writers in the intellectual circles through which he moved. A great lover of jazz, he also photographed many key figures and jazz festivals.
“Jesse Fernández was a great artist and photographer of his time,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “Having to leave Cuba, he re-created his own community of dancers, artists and literary figures during his many travels, and so his art is really about making those essential human connections.”
Fernández was born in 1925 in Havana, Cuba to Spanish parents. In 1932, the family moved to Spain, escaping the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado. They fled back to Cuba several years later, after the Spanish Civil War. After studying art in Cuba, Fernández traveled to the United States in 1942 to study engineering and later art at the Art Student League of New York. There he intermingled with other intellectuals including French artist Marcel Duchamp and Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges.
“Fernández also made a significant series of photographs in and around Havana in 1958–59 just in time to photograph Fidel Castro’s ascent to power,” said Aspinwall. “These pictures serve as a time capsule of Cuba during this pivotal moment in the nation’s history.”
Fernández taught himself photography while working for an advertising agency in Medellin, Colombia from 1952 to 1954. After a final visit to Cuba in 1959, Fernández devoted his remaining years to painting and photography, living in the United States, Spain and France. He passed away in 1986 at the age of 60 in Paris, and has been the subject of various retrospectives in Europe, including a 2003 exhibition at the National Museum of Art Reina Sofia in in Madrid, a 2012 survey at the Maison de l’Amerique Latine in Paris and most recently a one-man show in Perpignan, France at the International Center of Photojournalism.
The Nelson-Atkins is exhibiting Fernández’s portraits of artists. The Kansas City Public Library, Central Library is displaying portraits of writers and the American Jazz Museum is showcasing portraits of jazz musicians. All three venues will include images of 1950s Cuba. The exhibitions close Dec. 31.
Image captions: Jesse A. Fernández, Cuban (1925–1986). Marcel Duchamp, New York, 1956. Gelatin silver print (printed 2016), 12 × 17 7/8 inches. Lent by France Mazin Fernández.
Jesse A. Fernández, Cuban (1925–1986). The sailor, Cuba, 1956. Gelatin silver print (printed 2016), 11 1/2 × 17 3/4 inches. Lent by France Mazin Fernández.