A trip from Michigan to visit Cuba, in late October 2018, seemed intriguing on many fronts, not least the warm weather, nice beaches, an unusual destination, a big history between Cuba and the USA, and mostly for me the reputation that Cuban art and culture were of a high quality and present throughout the country.
Our plane landed near Havana and for the next seven days we stayed in the area, except for a day trip south to the old towns of Cienfuegos and Trinidad. During this time we sought out Cuban artists and art administrators, went on several cultural walking tours, visited the National Museum of fine Arts of Havana (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana) and a few private galleries, and saw a performance of the Cuban ballet under the direction of Alicia Alonso, who is known to be a world renowned Cuban prima ballerina assoluta and choreographer. Her company became the Ballet Nacional de Cuba in 1955.
Among the people we interviewed was Sindy Rivery, a Cuban woman of French heritage with extensive experience as an exhibit curator and art writer. She also represents some forty Cuban artists. She talked about Cuban artists as having incredible potential within a Cuban society that highly esteems their work. Sindy’s prime example was the artist Wilfredo Lam (1902-1982), as an example of one Cuban that had solo art exhibitions on the world stage.
She also stated that the art community was supported mostly through internal (non-government) organization as opposed to direct Cuban government support. She had never been out of Cuba.
Another interesting character was the artist Requer (Renier Quer). Just back from Europe, he was living in Havana in the home his family occupied for three generations, and this home was also his art studio. Now 35 years old, he studied at the San Alejandro Fine Arts Academy, and he was currently making art based upon cultural images and what those images represent, and then injecting technology into his work to transform the cultural images into a message – peace, war, invasion, love, destruction.
Sometimes, it almost feels as though young Cuban artists try too hard to be trendy, to be like American contemporary artists. In fact, they have so much to tell us from within their own isolated society. I hope they will realize this soon.
Lily Lihting Li Kostrzewa