We had the good fortune of connecting with Lee Lee La Cubana and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lee Lee, how do you think about risk?
I am known to take a risk or two whether that be in fashion choices, career moves or anything related to self-expression. I have always felt it is unfortunate that making unconventional decisions to express yourself, making moves that bring you closer to your goals and trying new things are considered risky. Speaking for myself and my generation, we grew up in a society made of rules that define how to achieve success, what career paths are acceptable and what success looks like, making anything falling outside of set paths “risky” and “unconventional”. If something scares you or is considered a risk, do it and learn as you grow through the path you have chosen. Those who don’t understand your direction will support you when the bigger picture comes together. You are the main character and narrator in your life, so you can always create a path that is unique to you and shape your experiences. When I take risks, I am setting aside the fear of “what will people think” and working toward a vision that they’ll soon understand. Innovative minds and visionaries make waves, start trends, and inspire others to step out of their comfort zones.
Growing up in urban New York, my career choice of being an artist was widely misunderstood which was understandable based on the “starving artist” narrative fed to us by society. Even after attending Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and Performing Arts which positions creatives to have higher chances in pursuing creative careers, I enrolled in an Environmental Engineering program when I began my college journey because engineering has a great trajectory for society’s definition of success. It was not until after my first year that I understood that success defined by society wasn’t inline with my personal definition for success which is living for myself, my passions and my happiness. I changed my major to Fine Arts and worked my way through school, ending up in the legal field working at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office. Upon completion of my degree, I was able to take the risk of making a career change to social media management, something I enjoy. While working and pursuing my degree, I looked into ways to maximize productivity which has helped me manage my social media management career, art career, personal brand, influencing, and starting my businesses The Culture Candy and heART Con. As a creative, taking risks and being innovative are always worth the try. As long as you are doing something that excites your soul, you can’t lose.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I enjoy invoking nostalgia through my art. Using pop-culture references and memories from my experience, I create contemporary pop-art pieces that represent a moment in my life and also provoke a memory or feeling for the viewer. It is like having a conversation with the viewer, connecting our individual experiences through nostalgic response to imagery. I am excited about all the opportunities I have earned throughout my art career thus far and look forward to what’s to come! Nothing is ever given, I have hustled tremendously to make sure that my art has a platform. To be a LIVING artist, you must have a certain level of tenacity to advocate for your art and give yourself a platform. In addition, you have to believe in yourself and not care what people think or how many likes your work will get. In 2019, I made a timeline of goals I wanted to achieve as an artist for the following 3 years and made sure I exceeded that list each year. I wrote an e-book on how to start your art career utilizing social networking for modern artists and I encourage any artists who are serious about their craft but aren’t sure where to start to read it.
You also need to have tenacity to start a business. Having a start up isn’t easy, but it’s worth it if you want to leave your mark! Some advice I would give is to work for the vision and not the money because when you are hustling from the heart, you are more fulfilled and have the drive to push through when challenges arise. Outside of my personal brand and art career, I started my art brand The Culture Candy with my sister Zalika Sterling solely for the love of art and providing opportunities for our community. When you align yourself with your purpose many blessings will come your way, just stay the path and believe in yourself. You have to think on your feet and develop an innovative mindset to push your business toward success. With our newest endeavor heART Con we are the underdog on the New York City art scene trying to make waves, which comes with many challenges. Initially, we were working to make an official art week for NYC and add an art convention to it the following year. After outreach was conducted to museums and foundations who have been operational in NYC for decades, it has been recently brought to our attention that the New York City museums have formed together to create an art week right before our scheduled art week. Instead of giving up, we have decided to sway in the direction of representing the underrepresented through bridging the gaps between the contemporary and the underground art scenes, for artists unknown in the museum world. We are now branding our art week as heART Week, New York’s undiscovered art week and will provide opportunities for underrepresented artists to showcase their work and connect New Yorkers with Galleries and Art Venues that live outside of the exclusivity of museums and foundations. Our first heART Week will take place June 22nd-27th and include many restaurants, galleries, pop-ups, and experiences across NYC including ARTECHOUSE, Chelsea Market and Culture Lab.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
As a Native New Yorker and Influencer, I would be excited to curate the ultimate experience! Summer in New York is a VIBE and never disappoints. Since we have an entire week on this itinerary, I would definitely incorporate some wellness activities such as walking the Williamsburg Bridge or the Highline, or visiting BQE Fitness which has become the best gym in the city.
My friend group is known for extravagant brunch outings. There are so many brunch places around the city, one of my best friends has a popular food tiktok account called My Big Fat Brunch Life so we like to visit different restaurants for videos but I would definitely recommend King’s Café in the Lower East Side. The food and drinks at King’s are amazing, and I am not just saying that because I know the owner King Nnamani. I would also recommend other restaurants I love like Jora which is a Peruvian Restaurant in Long Island City, Glasserie NYC which is an amazing Mediterranean restaurant in Greenpoint, Rebel Restaurant & Bar which is a Haitian restaurant in the L.E.S., The Boil on Waverly for some crab legs, or many of the other amazing foodie spots my friends and I frequent. I can’t forget about ramen and dim sum. We love visiting slurp shops like Tatsu or dim sum spots in Chinatown or Flushing like Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao. Lastly, our group has a strong Caribbean presence and we would not be “foodie gyals” without hitting a roti shop.. or two!
I previously mentioned that our brunches are extravagant, that’s because not only do we order close to the entire menu but we always find a way to make brunch an all day affair. After brunch, dessert is always a must! Some of our favorite dessert places are Spot Dessert Bar and Veniero’s which is a native L.E.S. staple. My friends and I also love visiting galleries after dessert, such as Eden Fine Art and Taglialatella Galleries. We are big on finding new exhibitions and photo opportunities around the city. To end the night we usually find a bar for some tasty cocktails and hip hop or soca music, or go to one of our houses for games like For The Girls paired with wine and cheese since one of my friends is the self-proclaimed Queen of Charcuterie.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My circle of family and friends has been an incredible support along my journey. It’s beautiful to watch the spiritual, emotional and professional growth and development of the ladies in my sisterhood and family as we all heal generationally and go after what we want in life. I watched women like my mother and grandmother sacrifice to provide despite socioeconomic disparities as BIPOC women from the Lower East Side. The area that you all may know as a great spot for brunch and photos since it’s gentrification, was once very different and although our home has changed, the inspiring people and stories have not been forgotten. There are not enough words to express the admiration I have for the inspiring women that worked to heal and provide for our community.
My sisterhood is another amazing support system in my life. I have been blessed with a diverse group of beautifully smart and supportive women that I would like to thank for always showing up for me and themselves. Our collective growth has been a blessing to witness. We have an array of personalities, dreams and journeys that we continuously support one another in, forming a beautifully bonded sisterhood. Zalika Sterling, Tayler Hernandez, Danielle Rayson and Crystal Bissessar, thank you for working toward making our vision happen and being there for me and one another through thick and thin. Nathalie Cadacio, Kayla Mullings, Nicole Chillin and Leticia Mendoza thank you for always being a positive light in my life. While I have many other people to be grateful for like my loving partner who has consistently been my rock, my dad, grandfather, brothers, and the guidance of more established artists like Tony Peralta, I want to focus on the importance of uplifting women.
Lastly, I’d like to shoutout the artists I have met along my journey in the NYC art scene. It has and will continue to be an honor to create along side you all.
Instagram: @leeleelacubana @nycheartcon @theculturecandy
leeleelacubana.com and Instagram @leeleelacubana