Yunior Aguiar Perdomo
Contemporary Artist & Lecturer
Yunior Aguiar Perdomo is an award-winning contemporary artist who has a distinct take on art, and is also a lecturer at Perth College UHI (University of the Highlands and Islands).
Originally from Havana, Cuba, Yunior has worked in partnership with Celia Irina González Álvarez as the artist duo ‘Celia-Yunior’ for the past 13 years. As a duo, they are interested in creating links between context and everyday life in their art, and both are strong believers in bringing art to the wider community. This is one of the main reasons Yunior is backing the bid for Perth to be City of Culture 2021.
Yunior explains how he started off on his path to becoming a renowned artist: “I have been a visual artist since 2003. I trained as a print maker at the Fine Art Academy, San Alejandro in Cuba and then went to the ISA (the Higher Institute of Art) to study my degree, which was mainly research-based. Since 2005 I have been working on engagement projects, which is very interesting – we look at the context of the place and the relationships individuals have with administration, and with various organisations and institutions.
“To make out art, we review history, analyse the past and the present, and try to suggest potential futures in our projects. We are really looking at documenting the present – we are different from the traditional way of telling history, as we tell it from our own point-of-view, from the common-day person’s point-of-view.
“We make media and time-based work, media installations, and the process involved a lot of research. Organisations have invited us to create specific pieces of work looking at how the organisations are connected with the context they are in. All the time we are trying to find the key connections between life, administration and ordinary individuals.”
Yunior first came to Scotland to do a three-month residency in contemporary arts at the Deveron Arts centre in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, to work with the local community. However, a three-month trip turned into a love affair with Scotland, as he met his wife and moved to her home town, Perth.
“At the same time, I got the opportunity to work for Perth College UHI as a Contemporary Art Practice lecturer, and it was the perfect situation, with family on the one side and work on the other. I had already been a lecturer for a while in Havana, so it was a nice coincidence.”
Besides being a lecturer, Yunior has won many prestigious titles, most notably the International Cuban Young Artist of the Year in 2015 alongside his creative partner Celia:
“The Farber Foundation, an American arts foundation, launched the awards and a panel of curators and critics selected us. It was good to get the praise from all those people with experience, and we also won some money to put towards our production costs. The type of art we produce is not the commercial type, so it is difficult for us to find collectors that want to buy our art, so it can be difficult to source production costs at times!”
In the same year, Celia-Yunior represented Cuba at the Venice Art Biennale, one of the most prestigious arts festivals in the world. So, what is Yunior up to at the moment?
“Right now I am working on a group exhibition in Havana, where we are working with the archives at Cuba’s National Museum of Art. It’s a fun project and we are really keen to evolve the project across other organisations, maybe even Perth Museum and Art Gallery’s archives.
“We are also working in collaboration with the University of South Florida, in Tampa, on an exhibition linking the contexts of South Florida and Havana – there are lots of historical connections there, particularly related to identity.
“We are always thinking about new pieces for the future. For example, right now, we are researching the correspondence between Karl Marx and Frederich Engels while Marx was writing ‘Das Kapital’ – we are interested in seeing the human side to their collaboration.”
As an art lecturer, Yunior strives to nurture his students’ creative talent, and get them involved in the wider community across Perthshire. He is continually encouraging them to take part in projects that touch people. Two projects Yunior, his colleagues and his students are involved in at the moment are murals at Perth’s Murray Royal Hospital, and a project in partnership with Tulloch Primary School and Perth and Kinross Council:
“In the Creative Industries department we have two courses, one in Visual Communication and one in Contemporary Art Practice. We have a considerable number of students, from HNC right through to degree-level. There is a lot of talent – we work on what is contemporary, public and socially-engaged art. That is what we want to do – engage with the public!
“The Creative Industries department tries to put the students directly in contact both with the industry and with real-life, to understand how professional experiences happen. We don’t want them to exist in a bubble, they need to be connected to the wider place, and that is what we are trying to do. It helps to make them connected to Perth.
“It is realty rewarding to discover talent and young people who feel attracted to art as a career. The thing that I think as a lecturer is to share with them all the experience you have gained over the years, and all you have gone through, and make them aware of all the good things and not so good things in the art world. It is an amazing job that I enjoy a lot.”
Yunior’s passion for Perth’s bid for City of Culture 2021 is plain to see. He has a unique take on the opportunities this holds for Perth, and how it is injecting a driving force to create a cultural atmosphere across the city:
“Building the potential of the city inspires people. You have something that has a lot of potential, and there are a lot of people trying to do things. Sometimes you get attracted to a place, and you feel there is something about to happen – that is how I feel when I see Perth.
“It is a great place with so much history in the heart of Scotland. The position and the location are amazingly fortunate – you are only 20 minutes from Dundee and only one hour from Edinburgh and Glasgow, you are right in the middle of so many things. We can connect an entire community to what happens in our culture.
“I see Perth as a blank canvas. You can do anything you propose yourself to do, and anything you imagine the community to do. There are lots of people working in the arts in many styles in Perth. When thinking about how cultural Perth is, there is still a lot to do to get people involved in contemporary art and events, but that is a good element – there is opportunity there, which makes me feel like it is really possible.
“In terms of infrastructure we have the Museum and Art Gallery – it is a natural history museum, and at the same time an art museum, which is so interesting and with a lot of potential to show what is happening in Perth’s contemporary art world. We can make Perth a massive cultural centre with lots of events surrounding it.
“The right conditions to win are there. Sometimes you can see certain moments in history in particular contexts – there are several factors aligning which are beneficial to the arts. For example, the empty shops in the city centre give us an opportunity to use those spaces in a more creative way. It gives us the opportunity to think about how to create the economy in the town by encouraging a sense of community. It can be a place to have discussions, make noise, and have debates.
“You feel the drive that is needed for cultural regeneration. We are trying to get our students to solve problems and confront situations and we want to achieve a community environment through contemporary art by working in collaboration with young people.
“I would be really hypocritical to be involved in the arts and say I need more this and more that, but then when something like this is happening to not get involved. As artists we can change the place we are living in, and if you are not worried about that you are not living in the place, you are just sleeping in it. I think that’s something that needs to be fixed, because too many people just see Perth as a dormant city. That vision needs to change with flexible productivity and involvement from every stakeholder. The culture and the City of Culture bid need the drive a support of the people and the community to succeed.”
You can find out more about Yunior and his artwork on his website: www.celia-yunior.com.