HACKENSACK, N.J. — Hackensack artist Stephanie O'Connor was 11 when she walked miles through the streets of Havana, Cuba, in search of a Coca-Cola.
"I remember I was so hot and thirsty and all I wanted was something to drink but there wasn't a single store around," said O'Connor, who was visiting her Cuban family.
"That's what it's like in Cuba," O'Connor added. "You don't get what you need and everything is a struggle."
O'Connor, now 26, has brought that experience to life on canvas as part of a series of narrative paintings aimed at "putting Cuba on blast."
"My paintings are conversation starters and I want that conversation to be 'this is what is happening' and 'what are you going to do about it?'"
O'Connor's grandmother fled to New Jersey during the Cuban Revolution to escape Fidel Castro and communism. O'Connor grew up in Hoboken and attended the Dalia Condis Fine Arts School in West New York.
In 2014 she opened "The Artistic Giraffe" in Hackensack — an art gallery and studio where O'Connor teaches painting classes.
She began work on the "Cuba Libre" series in January after the governments of America and Cuba began to normalize relations.
"People need to finally get to know Cuba, both the good and the bad," O'Connor told Daily Voice. "It is only 90 miles away but for decades it has been this place that has been lost to the outside world."
Many of O'Connor's paintings are metaphorical and political in nature.
"When I make these paintings there is a story I want to tell and I am trying to write it with my paintbrush," she said.
O'Connor is pleased by recent advances in Cuba, but said her family's homeland still has a long way to go.
"We've been taking baby steps," she said.
O'Connor will exhibit her "Cuba Libre" series at The Artistic Giraffe at 193 1/2 Main Street on June 11 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
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