René Peña graduated from the University of Havana with a specialization in languages and has since become one of Cuba’s best-known photographers. His work focuses on the human struggle for individuality in a restrictive, label-driven society and is characterized by stark contrasts–between black and white, subject and background, etc.
To view Peña’s photography solely through the lens of race certainly limits the possibility for interpretation. In “René Peña: The Duplicity of the Performer,” Cuban critic and curator David Mateo writes, “Peña was once invited to engage in a discussion sponsored by the Villa Manuela Gallery of UNEAC (the Union of Writers and Artists), entitled ‘Gender and Race in Cuban Visual Arts.’ The photographer listened patiently to everyone, and when his time came to speak he began by saying that he had been invited to the debate because he was black, which demonstrated the prejudice of the organizers, because neither he nor his photographic work should be viewed from the perspective of race. His work commented on the universal condition of man, and that was that.”