Juan Francisco Elso Padilla was a Cuban sculptor who died of leukemia in 1988 at the age of 32. Despite his short life, he set an influential example. He was part of the Cuban Renaissance of the late 1970s, a group of artists who introduced experimental styles and new content to Cuban art.
In 1991, Elso Padilla produced Por América/For America, for an exhibition of his work at the MIT List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The work, a wooden effigy of Marti, depicts his body pierced by red and green darts as he crosses a field studded with darts. Its reference to the martyr Saint Sebastian is unmistakeable.
The exhibition, organized by Luis Camnitzer, took its title from this work. In his essay for Por América, Camnitzer wrote of Elso Padilla, "He sought to know himself, his particular culture, and the complex convergence of traditions—Caribbean, African, Socialist, Western—that bound them together in suffering and hope. His art embodied an odd mixture of secularism and mysticism. "