Tobacco Leaves Sculptures by Janio Núñez

Cuban artist Janio Núñez creates works of art from tobacco leaves.


Janio started working with Tobacco when he was small after looking at his grandfather roll cigars at the factory. He ended up becoming a "torcedor" or cigar-roller himself in the factory.


One day he started seeing his co-workers as they are made up of Tobacco leaves. He used to get very scared and close his eyes, after sometime everything was fine and normal. This happened for about four months.


"I saw my friends in tobacco, dressed in tobacco leaves. I dreamed of tobacco. I had to go to a psychologist," Nunez says.


"So as a remedy, one night, I started rolling shapes, objects out of raw tobacco. My first real piece was the Indian head on the Cohiba label."


Nunez then spent three weeks struggling to get a meeting with the director of Habanos SA, the state-run cigar monopoly, in order to present his work.


"Tell me what it's worth," he recalls telling the director. "If you say it is worthless, I will destroy it immediately." The works were a hit. The director invited him to present them at the Havana Trade Fair at 1998 and at the first Havana Festival the following year.


From then on, he began his "Celebrity Smokers" series, sculpting the miniature likeness of Che Guevara, Charlie Chaplin, Luciano Pavarotti, Fidel Castro, Winston Churchill, Jack Nicholson, Groucho Marx and Arnold Schwarzenegger.


It takes between 20 to 70 days to create these figures depending on the size.

He puts these pieces together in his studio in the coastal cita of Guanabo, half an hour away from La Havana.


In 2000 he captured the attention of international media when he built his first life-sized sculpture of British politician Winston Churchill who was known to have an inkling for Cuban cigars after his trip to Cuba in the late 1800s.

A few years later he discovered God and briefly abandoned sculpting.

"I wanted to become famous, but when celebrity came to me I was not ready," he says. He studied to become an evangelical pastor and graduated in 2006.

In 2008 he went back to sculpting, and last year he set up a workshop a half-hour outside of Havana, near the sea, where he raises his own crop.

These days he molds mainly smaller pieces for tourists, but has also been inspired by his newfound faith. His next project will be a fresco entitled "Foundations of Humanity," he says. "God will reveal it to me."

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