Is former Cuban President Fidel Castro becoming an art aficionado in his old age?

Inspired to show his support for the arts, Castro made his first public appearance in nine months, attending the opening of an art studio/cultural center, Studio Kcho Romerillo, Laboratory for Art, in the Cuban capital of Havana, according to The Associated Press.

On Thursday, official newspapers and websites released a photo showing "a seated, gray-haired Castro from behind, pointing at a work of art while artist Alexis Leyva leans in to talk to him at the Wednesday night event. Cuban state television also broadcast video of the encounter on the afternoon news."

Who is the artist that grabbed Castro's attention and made him feel compelled to make a special public appearance after almost a year?

Alexis Leyva Machado (Kcho) "is a world-renowned sculptor and mixed-media artist who has contributed to the Contemporary Art movement. Kcho was born on the Isle de la Juventud in Cuba in 1970. He obtained his BA in Fine Arts from the National School of Fine Arts in Havana. He was interested in drawing at a very young age, and his main influence was Bruce Nauman (American, b.1941). The majority of Kcho's works are based on boat forms. He uses materials that are often scavenged from other sources, such as recycled bottles and old lumber from docks and boats. He grew up around water, so he took the pictures from his past and created images that honored the dead. He incorporated many Cuban icons and items from the daily culture into his sculptures, according to Artnet.

"Some of Kcho's most notable works include Coluna Infinita, Las Playas Infinitas, and El Camino de la Nostalgia. In 1995, Kcho won the prestigious grand prize at South Korea's Gwangju Biennial, which presents a global perspective on Contemporary Art. In 1996, Kcho began to exhibit his work at the National Center for contemporary Art in Montreal, Canada. He also exhibited his work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, CA, the Reina Sofia National Museum in Madrid, Spain, and many other famous galleries and museums."

While often criticized for putting limitations on the creative expression of its people, Cuba has been one of Kcho's biggest supporters throughout his career in the arts.

"In 1992, Kcho was named a member of the Jury of the National Salon of the National Museum Palace of Fine Arts in Havana, Cuba. In 1994, he received a scholarship by the Ludwig foundation of Cuba," Artnet adds. "The group presents award money to help promote and protect Contemporary Cuban artists. The following year Kcho received the UNESCO Prize for Promotion of the Arts in Geneva, Switzerland. His works are on permanent display in some of the most famous galleries and museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY, the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe, AZ, and the Walker Art Center in Minnesota. Kcho currently lives and works in Cuba." 

Another news outlet, Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia published three other pictures on its website that showed Castro's face, the AP adds. It was a cool evening in Havana, therefore, Castro wore a black jacket and green scarf. He is seen reaching out to touch a sculpture in one of the images.

Castro's last public appearance was on Apr. 9, 2013, when he attended the inauguration of Havana school.

Behind closed doors, Castro has continued to network -- in December he met privately with visiting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, a key ally of Cuba.

The 87-year-old former Cuban president, led Cuba for 48 years before falling ill in July 2006 and handing over power to his brother Raúl, who formally became president in January 2008.