Janio Nunez is a talented Cuban artist who has the gift of making incredible sculptures exclusively from tobacco leaves. He creates works of art both tiny and life-size that prove there are better things to do with tobacco than smoking it.
Janio’s fascination with tobacco began as a little boy, watching his grandparents roll cigars at the factory. He started copying them and ended up becoming a tobacco leaf roller himself. He worked at the factory, but after passing evaluations, he was sent to Varadero, Cuba’s largest resort in Cuba, to roll cigars for tourists. Everything was normal until one day when something really strange happened. He began seeing his co-workers like they were made entirely of tobacco leaves. He would get scared and close his eyes, and when he opened them they were normal again, dressed in their regular clothes. Then would turn around and see another colleague sitting down, all made of tobacco (clothes, face, skin, etc.). This happened sporadically for about four months, and his friends even took him to see a doctor about his “problem”. That didn’t help very much, and realizing something was wrong with him, he decided to do somehow fix things himself.
Photo by Amado de la Rosa Labrada
One late night, while sitting at his work table, images of tobacco people came to him again, so he started modelling with tobacco leaves. That night he created his first piece, and felt a kind of release, because he realized that all this time some kind of supernatural force had been trying to tell him what to do. From there on he just gave in to his obsession with tobacco and created an entire series of famous people made of leaves. He knew his gift was something special so he spent the next three weeks trying to gain an audience with the manager of the hotel he worked in, to show him his sculptures. When he finally got his chance, he told the manager “tell me if they’re worth it, if you say they’re worthless, I will destroy them immediately”. But his boss was mesmerized by the unique tobacco art and arranged for Janio to display his sculptures in the first edition of the Festival del Habano.
Photo © AFP/Adalberto Roque
He continued creating his amazing tobacco leaf masterpieces, putting together a series called “Famous Smokers”, which included miniature sculptures of icons like Fidel Castro, Jack Nicholson, Winston Churchill, Groucho Marx, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Che Guevara, just to name a few. His works were featured in over 50 international publications on tobacco, and he was invited to appear in various exhibitions around the world. But it wasn’t until the year 2000 that he reached the pinnacle of his career – he created a detailed life-size sculpture of British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, smoking a cigar. This really attracted the attention of the media, and he even received praises from Churchill’s grand-daughter, who came to Cuba to see the amazing work of art first-hand.
Today, Janio Nunez has a small workshop in Guanabo, near the sea, just a half hour from Havana. It’s here that he creates his amazing tobacco leaf sculptures, by simply gluing them together. In the near future, the artist is planning to start work on his largest piece of art, one that would hopefully set a new world record for the Biggest Sculpture Made of Tobacco. He also wants to start a museum of tobacco art.
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