Leandro Soto - Where spirituality meets art
Amitabh Sharma, Contributor
"Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky," resonate these words of Rabindranath Tagore, India's national poet, and an artist in his own right, into the works of Leandro Soto, multidisciplinary visual/installation and performance artist.
"I am deeply inspired by India and the work of Tagore," the artist says. "He combines the beauty of the verse with the knowledge."
"I am traveller," Soto professes, his eyes gleaming from the round Gandhiesque bespectacled frame, recounting that his journeys have been a key and critical influence in his creative thought process.
Growing up in Cienfuegos, a coastal city in south Cuba, Soto had his first stroke of inspiration when he was five. "I seem to be surrounded by spirits and energies, which used to guide me and I started painting," he recalled, sitting cross-legged, as cool breeze kissed the wind chime hanging in the entrance to his home and his thought process that seemed to wander in distance.
His grandfather was a sculptor and one of Soto's first inspirations.
"There were options," he said. "Either to go to dentistry school or arts, and I chose the latter."
In Cuba, Soto was one of the leading figures of 'Volumen Uno', an artistic movement that changed the course of Cuban art in 1980s. He was the first artist in his generation to work with the Afro-Cuban heritage.
Soto spread his artistic footprints and commenced his journey, which took him across the world, and a couple of distinct cultures have been imprinted in his mind. "I lived in Mexico in 1988, there was a lot of Mayan influence in the culture and the arts, which inspired my works," he said.
India has been one of major influences, where he travels periodically, and is captivated by the spirituality, culture, people, and the values. "The land (India) is so enriched, it will take several lifetimes to soak even a bit of the spiritual consciousness," he says.
In his current work, Soto brings rich cross-cultural dialogue in contemporary arts cultural heritages and art forms - the outcome of his travels and living in numerous cultures.
"Painting, to me, is the solution to transformation," he says.
Soto, who commenced his artistic journey 32 years ago, recycles everyday material and transforms them into conversation pieces. They often have sacred meaning. Soto has also delved in art form combining music and sound effects using drumming, chanting and the visual arts.
"Painting, drawing, and installation art are integrated in order to create a state of mind where creativity, poetry, and dancing are a channel for emotions," Soto says. He has made Barbados home for the last five years.
Soto says that his creations, whatever the media, have underlying meaning them. The key to comprehend them, he says, lies in the synthesis and integration of values raising personal and cultural awareness.
"I love the Caribbean as it has a rich confluence of multiple cultures," he says, "I search deeply in this influence - European, African, Mediterranean, Indian - they are all here in this region."
Soto has, to date, participated in more than 162 group exhibitions and 91 solo art shows in museums, art galleries, and alternative art spaces and lectured in universities in the United States and across the world.
Capturing cultural confluences, their spiritual manifestations and diversity in human beings, Soto says his travels and work revolve around Jose Marti's quote ... "I come from everywhere and I go everywhere"... this mystical artist's journey continues ... .