From Inside Her Octopus Fridge, Artist Claribel Calderius Discusses Her Latest Work in Mérida

A hanging sculpture, “Mycelia,” and a wall piece called “Mental Positions” in Claribel’s gallery, a former ice locker for octopus. Photo: Patricia Robert / Yucatán Magazine

Cuban-born Claribel Calderius’ cheerful, brightly colored work deals with very unhappy subject matter: helplessness, memory and abandonment. Her series, Children of the Homeland, is embroidered with the faces of children from Havana orphanages. In 2020, Calderius moved to Mérida, using her work as a kind of therapy during that period of isolation. I was introduced to her by curator Tiffany Thompson and we spoke long-distance while she was in Mexico City at Zona Maco art fair while I was at my studio in upstate New York.

TREY SPEEGLE: Hola, chica! Are you seeing lots of art in Mexico City?

CLARIBEL CALDERIUS: Too much, sometimes. I think that art fairs are like an overdose. My husband, Marco Castillo, has a show at KOW gallery at Zona Maco. I never get tired of HIS work though, after 21 years together and two kids.

Nice. Hey, speaking of kids and art, tell me about your Children of the Homeland series.

I created an art school for children in Madrid and had the opportunity to collaborate with orphanages. When the Cuban boom happened with Obama, after 10 years in Madrid, I arrived in Cuba and wanted to work with orphanages and help these children who are in so much pain. I  could see how, through art, they became more loving, calm, and resilient. When I arrived in Mérida, I finally began to understand why I worked with orphans.

Claribel Calderius and her series of heads called “social pact” and a wall piece, “Cabin Without a Window.” Photo: Patricia Robert / Yucatán Magazine

Why is that..?

Well, when I was a child my father was the bodyguard of Fidel Castro. It’s a long story, but he was taken away and killed. We were told five different stories of what happened…

Oh, God that’s so horrible…. wow, after all that, do you feel that through your art, you’ve processed those painful memories?

Yes. The work is like a therapy. I don’t know if it was Mérida or COVID but I needed to open the box and work on myself. I didn’t have any materials and I was dying of anxiety. I found the jute in my garage. I just started working and I didn’t stop.

Do the titles reflect the meaning behind the work?
What’s the title of the big piece [opposite] you are in front of?

“Cabin Without a Window”… like when you feel your head is a prison. Sometime I feel my thoughts and the monsters in my mind and they won’t let me go out. People who know me might be surprised by that because I’m always  o happy and positive.

Are the head sculptures of other people, or are they your head?

All my head. They are called “Social Pact.” We all need to wear masks to belong to this world. We hide the fear, the suffering but everything is there.

What’s that stuck to the walls of the studio?

Foam. You’re gonna love it. The place is very strange like a cave. It used to be a huge fridge for octopus …


Yes, the studio was once a refrigerator for octopus.

OK. I think that’s got to be the headline! Are you working on an upcoming show? 

I am working on two museum shows, one in Mexico and one in Europe, but I think I can’t talk about it just yet.

Well, congrats. Thanks for taking the time to talk. 

I’ll be here when you get back. Thank YOU.

Follow Claribel Calderius on IG: @claribelcalderius_

Trey Speegle
Trey Speegle
Trey Speegle is a writer, photographer and artist who uses his huge collection of vintage paint-by-number paintings to create new works that resonate with a broad, pop appeal. His Speegle Studio, RePOP Shop, and Gallery 52 are housed in a former gas station in the Catskill Mountains. He divides his time between New York and Mérida, Mexico, where he has a second home, studio and gallery space.
VOTE NOW!spot_img
Verified by ExactMetrics