Courtesy of Rafael Villares

Born in Havana, Cuba in 1989, Rafael Villares uses a wide range of mediums — including painting, drawing, photography, sound and sculpture — to create innovative pieces that question the effect of humans on the natural landscape and the impact of nature on human life. 

Using research, collaborative methods and public space interventions, at the intersection of art and science, he pushes the boundaries of traditional artistic practices. His work — a piece of Villares’ vision of terra ignota, the unknown land — will be displayed in the “Blanket Statement: 1st-Year MFA Fall Exhibition”  at Green Hall Gallery at the Yale School of Art until Nov. 11.

“I like to work with data a lot,” said Villares. “I am fascinated by the idea of how things that we feel are always transforming data and how data is so ‘unfeeling’. It’s a number so we do not have a sensation.”

Through his work, Villares translates the invisible meaning of data into approachable artworks with the goal to sensitize individuals to their relationship to nature. He defends the role of contemporary artists in raising awareness about climate change in works like “Topographic Paradox.”

“The most important part of the art is to give a space for people to rethink their lives and the multiple realities,” he states. 

Before joining the Yale School of Art Sculpture Department this year, Villares received artistic training in his hometown from the Instituto Superior de Arte, the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro and the Centro Experimental de Artes José Antonio Díaz Peláez. Cuba, the island he was born and raised on, has shaped his work and his focus on landscape. 

“If you live on an island you think differently than if you live on the continent,” said Villares. In one of his first pieces “Finisterre” — which means end of the Earth in latin — he explores how the sea is the first frontier for someone growing up on an island. “Even with the political restrictions in the moment,” he declares, “what shapes you first is the landscape.” 

He has now settled in New Haven with his wife and two daughters for the two years to come. Coming to the Yale School of Art, a drastic change from living in Cuba, he believes that he is starting over which he considers “as a good sensation” as he hopes to connect with new ideas to build his art.

Aki Sasamoto, professor in the Sculpture Department of the Yale School of Art, explained how engaging it was to have students, like him, who already have thought through works but are willing to come back to school and approach their art in a new way. 

“I am excited that people like him can benefit from being at Yale,” Sasamoto concluded.

She hopes that Villares will be able to develop his projects in collaboration with other departments, a wish that the artist also shares. 

His work has been widely exhibited in Cuba and internationally including at the Chazen Museum in Madison, Wisconsin, the Museo Nacional de Arte in Bolivia and the Vancouver and Havanna Biennales. This year, alongside works by Kcho and Giuseppe Stampone, Rafael Villares presents his work at the Cuban Pavilion of the 59th Venice Biennale in the exhibition “TERRA IGNOTA, (proposals for a New World)” curated by Nelson Ramirez de Arellano Conde. 

When asking the curator of the exhibition how it was to work with Rafael and his art, Conde responded that the Cuban Pavilion was centered around Villares’ works. 

“The concept of Terra Ignota was born as a fruit of a collaboration among Rafael and I, the other two artists are there for multiple reasons, and they complete the concept but are not, from my point of view, indispensable as Rafael is,” Conde wrote to the News. 

Villares’ works, Topographic Paradox Series, Paradigm Series, World’s Fragment Series, Immersion Series, and Morphology of Echo Series are shown in Venice until Nov. 27. 

Staying true to his artistic mission, one of Villares’ local artworks, “Immersion Series” involved the receiving of information from oceanographers about the sea floors from which he created surreal fictionalized digital landscapes. 

The Yale School of Art was established in 1869.