July 31, 1998
CONTEMPORARY ART FROM CUBA
Contemporary Art from Cuba provides a window through which Americans can view a society otherwise closed to most of us. Without taking sides on issues, this groundbreaking exhibition includes work that reflects various views of the revolution and the realities of life under the United States' embargo. The artists speculate on Cuba's complex past, its love/hate relationship with the United States and its combination of African, European and Asian cultures.
Contemporary Art from Cuba represents an unparalleled milestone for Cuban art and awareness of that art in the United States, according to its curator, the director and chief curator of the ASU Art Museum, Marilyn Zeitlin.
"This is a Golden Age of art in Cuba," Zeitlin said. "Cuba's isolation has produced an artistic output that is fresh and independent. Nothing seems jaded or self-indulgent, but rather full of vitality and relevance to the core issues of living.
"The extraordinary intelligence of these artists is made available to us through the high skill level they all have. They draw like masters, not like young people, with control and verve at the same time," Zeitlin said.
The artists in this exhibition are young, ranging in age from 24-39. The majority is Afro-Cuban and many have been educated at art school for as long as 12 years. Aware of Cuba's unique situation, they use their finely-honed skills and knowledge of art history cleverly. They exploit metaphor to circumvent the censor and comment on shortages, surveillance, incipient racism, Miami and the tragedy of the "balseros" (boat people) who left on makeshift rafts.
"Cuban artists of the '90s generation have forged a vocabulary that expresses to an amazing degree what cannot be said outright, resulting in work that is always in a tension of double or triple meanings," Zeitlin said.
Yet while they are part of a generation that voices skepticism about the pieties of the socialist revolution, they remain loyal Cubans.
"The artists explore the contradictions between revolutionary rhetoric and Cuban reality, but they also express their pride at being part of an historical experiment and that they are survivors," Zeitlin said.
Among the Cuban artists whose work will be featured in the exhibition, are KCHO, Los Carpinteros and Pedro Alvarez.
The artists featured in the exhibition explore irony as a strategy for psychological survival and oblique commentary. Embedded in their art is the notion that when political and personal problems are inescapable, humor may be one of the few outlets for frustration and anger.
Their work also exemplifies the concept of "inventando," the improvisation and creative resourcefulness required for everyday survival in Cuba. This is one of three major themes that emerge again and again throughout Contemporary Art from Cuba. "Inventando" demonstrates the creativity and inventiveness of the Cubans, a skill that helps them solve problems, deal with poverty and simply survive.
The second theme found in the artwork, "the special condition of being an island," focuses on the sea, boats, bridges and isolation, addressing the separation created initially by geography and augmented by politics and the economic embargo.
The final theme, "the rhetoric of history," addresses the difference between the promises and the realities of societies and political systems in both Cuba and the United States. Works in this category attempt to peel back the lies of history.
"These are persistent concepts that I saw recurring again and again in the artwork," Zeitlin said. "They are three strands that run throughout the exhibition, with many of the pieces featuring two or even all three of these concepts."
ASU Art Museum enjoys an impressive reputation for organizing and presenting exhibitions of international significance, including the 1995 Venice Biennale featuring the work of Bill Viola.
ASU Art Museum is located at Nelson Fine Arts Center, 10th Street and Mill Avenue, Tempe, Arizona.