Leïla Voight is an enigma. She’s a very private person with a very public persona. Her latest project, the multidisciplinary Centro Cultural la Cúpula, is about to open its doors to Meridanos, showcasing international artists Kimiko Yoshida and Tomoko Mukaiyama, and Mexican artist Ernesto Velázquez. Most people would shrink at the thought of a project of this scope, but Ms. Voight knows how to surround herself with the best, and on Thursday December 17th, the cultural landscape in Merida will have a new landmark.
Centro Cultural la Cúpula is an incredibly ambitious project you are embarking on…what made you decide to create this here in Merida?
LV: For many years we lived in Tulum. When we decided to make a change, we were invited to visit Merida by a dear friend who had just moved here from Playa del Carmen. We’d been here over 10 years ago and suffice to say, Merida looked radically different back then. So we took another look and kind of fell in love with the city. Even before we found this historic property that was las Caballerizas del Palacio Canton, I knew I would build a cultural center here one day. It’s an idea that has been fully formed in my head for many years—I only needed the time, space and place to make it happen.
Why do you think Merida is ready for this?
LV: From the beginning, I had a vision of Merida becoming again the international ‘living’ city that it once was; of people coming from all over the world to make their home here, which they’re now doing. And I know that the appreciation, enjoyment and collection of contemporary art, in all its forms, is an important part of connecting with a city and building a life in that city. I want Centro Cultural la Cúpula to provide that experience to both visitors and residents alike.
Have you had many naysayers during this process?
LV: My husband? (laughs) Actually he was very supportive of my vision, once I assured him we’d be able to maintain our own privacy. That said, I do have a good friend, the widow of Yves Klein, with art Foundations in both France and the US, who asked me if I was ‘wacko’—if I was prepared to give up two or more years of my life. Of course I said ‘Yes’!
As a private person embarking on a very public project, how do you align those two things?
LV: Well I am a Gemini… but I’m also a builder. And when you’re confident in a vision, whether you’re an artist, writer or entrepreneur, it has to come out. It has to find expression. And that’s what I’m doing with La Cúpula. I love to work with artists because I can make them the focus, put them at the forefront. Most artists don’t get the opportunities they need to thrive, either creatively or financially, and I believe as a society we have a duty to ensure that happens.
Coming back to the show…you know the artist Kimiko Yoshida personally. What can you tell me about her?
LV: She’s an amazing artist and a wonderful cook! She knows wine better than most French people. She’s a 200% Japanese foreigner, which means she’s fully Japanese but she can enter societies easily—something that can be difficult for Japanese people. In her first visit to Merida, we were still renovating our home. Kimiko and her husband melted into the culture immediately, with no help from me! She became almost Mayan…with her looks, her skills of observation, and her ability to understand and be understood. This metamorphosis shows in her self-portraits. Kimiko’s exhibition at La Cúpula is of a new body of art, and it will be up until January 31, 2016.
And Tomoko Mukaiyama?
LV: Tomoko also visited Merida once before. A friend introduced us but we didn’t have a chance to connect until another friend with the Merida International Brass Festival (MIBF) suggested we collaborate. Tomoko is a contemporary pianist and performing artist, and as La Cúpula is about ‘Experiencing art in all its forms’, I jumped at the chance to integrate Tomoko into the Opening Night as well as for a solo recital on Dec 21st. I know the piece she’ll be playing but that’s it—she will create something unique the night of the recital.
Is she as powerful and sexy as the image on your invitation?
LV: She is! When she plays, it’s almost otherworldy. The minute she touches the piano, she becomes someone else. She’ll also be performing with the Merida International Brass Festival so if you miss her at La Cúpula, you may still get a chance to see her.
Your third artist is a furniture designer who works in the ancient art of parchment, which is actually goatskin. Tell me about Ernesto Velázquez.
LV: The word parchment refers to animal skin and Ernesto is a true ‘parchmenter’. His workshop is like an artist studio, with paints, canvasses, skins, frames—it’s amazing. Ernesto has taken furniture design, in terms of his approach and sensibility, to a new form. The pieces are like paintings, with layers and layers of color and texture. Ernesto is from Mexico City but lives in Merida, and we’re very excited to show his work.
What can people expect at the opening on December 17th?
LV: To be surprised, amazed, inspired, delighted…the opening will be like a grand meal with the furniture design as the appetizer, the visual art as the entrée and the music as the dessert.
What are you excited about for the future of Centro Cultural la Cúpula?
LV: Number one: to be self-sustaining through sales of art, performances, workshops, and yoga intensives. Number two: to use the charitable component of the foundation to provide workshops in art for children, the infirm and disabled, and those without access to this kind of opportunity. Number three: to open minds to the world of contemporary art. And lastly, to entice, beguile, captivate and enchant our visitors so that time and again, they come back to experience art at La Cúpula.
The Grand opening for Centro Cultural la Cúpula is Thursday, December 17th at 7 pm. For more information and to purchase tickets for Tomoko Mukaiyama’s solo recital December 21st, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit them on Facebook at lacupulamerida.