After moving to America at age 46, Cuban artist Pedro Roque Urra took a job as a welder and then worked at a restaurant. But he never lost his love for art. Though Urra, now 62, initially struggled to adapt to his new surroundings, his focus on art helped him stay grounded. Now Urra’s creations are in private collections in Cuba, Japan, Mexico, the U.S. and several European countries. Here is his story.
Pedro Roque Urra: Resources are scarce for artists in Cuba, where I’m from. But because it’s an island and we are socially and culturally isolated, I believe the level of originality in the arts can be striking.
My love for sculpture blossomed in my late 20s. I studied design and sculpture with two well-known artists in my hometown of Pinar del Río, and I’ve won several awards in Cuba for my artwork.
In 1998, my wife and I applied for the green card lottery to go to the United States. We were selected in 2006. I was already 46 years old, but we were ready to begin a new life. We immigrated to Louisville, Kentucky, with our two sons and struggled to adapt. We weren’t used to the cold, and my first job was tough. I worked as a welder at a factory while trying to learn English. Eventually I asked my boss if he would allow me to sculpt an iron wire bust during my free time. He was kind enough to open the workshop for me on weekends. The completed work was a 36-inch bust titled Eva — Spanish for “Eve.” I was trying to reflect the beauty of creation.
Things got better when I found my current employment, busing tables at a Cuban restaurant named Havana Rumba. I go around with my cart, picking up plates and glasses. Meanwhile, a bust of Don Quixote that I sculpted is on display at the restaurant. When customers find out that I made it, they tell me I should devote myself to art full-time. That’s my lifelong dream.
When I make art, I never stop — I surrender entirely to the process of creation. One day I hope to create works that can be exhibited in public spaces. What I get from my art goes beyond the contemplation of beauty and aesthetic values. My goal is to make people pause for a minute and reflect. Where do we stand? How are we moving forward as a species? God willing, the time will come when I will spend every single day of my life creating new works of art.