Just one day after returning to his native Cuba following a five-week residency at Otahuhu College, artist Osmeivy Ortega Pacheco found himself in the midst of catastrophic Hurricane Irma.

With winds of up to 260km per hour, Irma devastated Cuba's northern coast and hit its capital, Havana, in August. It destroyed crops, electricity supplies, roads and buildings; 1.8 million people were evacuated and sheltered in temporary accommodation, and 10 died.

Now Ortega's newfound friends in New Zealand are helping him raise much-needed money toward the rebuild. Well-known New Zealand artists — Michel Tuffery, John Walsh, Stephen Ellis, Seraphine Pick, ceramicist Andy Kingston and sculptor Clovis Viscoe among them — are contributing work to a fundraising exhibition which also includes 20 prints and paintings from 17 of Cuba's leading artists.

The George Fraser Gallery, where the Elam art students usually exhibit, is giving its gallery space for free and Cuban ambassador Mario Alzugaray will open the exhibition.


Otahuhu College art teacher Malcolm McAllister, who arranged for Ortega to visit New Zealand and work with his students on a mural for Auckland Airport, says they wanted to help when they saw the devastation Irma caused.

Cuban students clean an elderly woman's home following Hurricane Irma.
Cuban students clean an elderly woman's home following Hurricane Irma.

"There are a number of students that come from the Pacific Islands and they're not unfamiliar with the damage a hurricane can cause," he says. "We asked Os if there was anything we could do to help and he suggested the exhibition."

McAllister arranged for Ortega to spend time teaching at Otahuhu College after seeing and being impressed by his work during a visit to Cuba. Some 15 of McAllister's students worked alongside the renowned printmaker to create a woodcut mural which was
installed in November in the arrivals area of Auckland Airport's international terminal.

McAllister says Ortega was popular with students who gained an appreciation for his discipline and focus as well as developing a greater interest in and awareness of the world outside their immediate neighbourhood.

This week's fundraising show features a silent auction with the highest bidders to be revealed on Saturday at 5pm. Work is on show from Thursday.