Mastermind 2016 Honorable Mention: Fabian Peña

New Times' Mastermind Award honors the city's most inspiring creatives. We'll be profiling those honorable mentions, and eventually the finalists, in the weeks to come. This year's three Mastermind Award winners will be announced February 18 at Artopia, our annual soiree celebrating Miami culture. For tickets and more information, visit

Fabian Peña always liked insects. As a young boy growing up in el Cerro, a small neighborhood in Havana, Cuba, he would spend hours catching flies with his grandfather. Thirty years later, Peña spends less time catching flies and more time creating art with them.

“Flies are our closest pets. They are everywhere listening to our conversations, witnessing everything that happens to us,” says the artist.

In 1987, Peña was 11 years old, and knew he wanted to make art, so he joined a vocational art school in el Cerro. But, a mere two years later, the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving Cuba in the midst of a severe economic crisis called the Special Period.
“It was a very intense and contradictory time, especially in art school. Materials were scarce, which obligated us to be creative. The information that would come to our hands was thanks to a few professors who had the possibility to travel now and then and bring those materials to the school,” says Peña.

Peña left the island on a whim in 2004, after accepting an invitation to join an artist collective in Mexico. Since then, he has moved to Miami but says he doesn’t belong to any one place.

"It was very difficult in the beginning trying to adapt to a new reality. It is much more difficult to survive as an immigrant artist here in the United States than in Cuba,” says Peña. “In the end, being Cuban and being American are essentially the same. Nationalism is absurd and dangerous at any place in the world. It brings many conflicts of interest and this logically leads to violence.”
Peña started his "Biodibujos" series back in 2000 with Adrian Soca. He paints with the flies, crushing them until they become mush. Then, he mixes that substance with glue to create a pigment that allows him to apply it to a brush. If you were on Florida International University’s SW Eighth Street campus in 2011, you might have caught a glimpse of the finished product. Monologo II, a 325-foot piece made of crushed flies, was displayed along the windows of the Frost Museum of Art. Peña used the house pests to write out a philosophical message in script, directly asking, “What do you think is Education? Is it to help you fit into the mechanism?”

“In Cuba, we did not have air conditioning at home so the windows were always open and we had to live with the flies. We are very close and at the same time reject them as animals,” says Peña. “Through them, I represent my own questions or concerns. They are a kind of collective voice in my work. Each piece for me is like a scientific experiment, constantly searching for a personal language.”
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Alexandra Martinez is an arts and culture writer based in Miami. She graduated from Columbia University in 2014 with a bachelor's in film studies. Find her at