Cuban New Art

The Cuban art critic Gerardo Mosqucra, who has been closely associated with the development of contemporary Cuban art, has aptly termed the atmosphere III late twentieth-century Cuba as `post-utopian’, a description that can be extended to much of the region. This new uncertainty has been heightened by the effects of political instability, neo-colonial economic dependency, urbanization, modern technology, global communications and travel, tourism, migration and exile.Although this has fundamentally changed Caribbean culture and its relationship to the rest of the world, it has not come at the expense of the distinctiveness of contemporary Caribbean art, in Contrast to the somewhat naive universalism of the fifties and sixties. Instead, the present cultural climate has generated a new awareness of tile political significance of culture and an even greater emphasis on interrogations of identity.

Luise Hernandez Cruz | composition with Ochre Shapes 1976
The cultural historian and theorist Stuart Hall, who lives in Britain, wrote in 1987 about his Caribbean background:`What I have thought of as dispersed and fragmented comes, paradoxically, to be the representative modern experience’ .

Tony Capellan | Organ Theft 1994

What is now often called New Cuban Art emerged in the early eighties in exhibitions such as Volumen I (198 1) at the International Art Centre in Havana. The Volumen I exhibition included work by Jose Bedia, Juan Francisco Else, Jose Manual Foes (b. 1956), Israel Leon (b. 1957), Gustavo Perez Monzon (b. 1956), Ricardo Rodriguez Brey (b. 1956), Leandro Soto (b. 1956) and RubenTorres Llorca (b. 1957) and the photorealists Tomas Sanchez, Rogelio Lopez Marin `Gory’ (b. 1953) and Flavio Garciandia. Most of these artists were recent graduates of the ISA and several taught there as well, a testimony to the school’s fundamental impact on Cuban artistic development. Although the work in Volumen I was embryonic, the exhibition helped to establish the main trends of the eighties and nineties. Garciandia, for example, was already moving towards conceptualism at the time and has contributed greatly to the selfreferential character of New Cuban Art. Elso and Bedia have probably been even more influential with their highly individual syntheses of the personal, the mythical, the spiritual and the political.

It can be argued, however, that the Havana Biennial has played a much more significant role in the development of contemporary Cuban m-t than the ISA.The biennial was established in 1984 as an exhibition of Latin American art, but in 1986 was expanded to encompass ‘Third World’ art.Thc biennial has, among others, encouraged the development of process-oriented,art forms such as installation and performance art, a trend reinforced by the scarcity of conventional art materials. It has also created a forum for artists and observers with related Interests from All over the glob. By the late eighties, The Havana Bbiennial had become a much-noted event on the international art calendar, which has made the international exposure of Cuban art less dependent than before on the traditional power structures of the Western art world.

New Cuban Art emerged during a period of liberalization and greater openness and, for the first time since the revolution, young Cuban artists overtly challenged Political and artistic dogma.This is exemplified in the work of Lazaro Saavedra (b. 1964), who started exhibiting in the mid-eighties. Saavedra has been a roving commentator on the Idiosyncrasies of post-revolutionary Cuban life and art With subversive humour, but also with tenderness and compassion. His contribution to the Third Havana Biennial in 1989, for- instance, Consisted of an ‘altar’ to art and Ideology, under the mock political Slogan `Visual Artists of All Creeds, Unite’. The ‘offerings’ on the Improvised altar included a device to measure ideological deviations.

Lazaro Saavedra | Installation 1989

In the early eighties, Leandro Soto had already started incorporating official photographs of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro in his collages and this trend of using revolutionary iconography and slogans for satirical purposes became more pronounced ,by world ,in the late eighties.
While Soto and Saavedra tempered their political satire with playful humour, other artists were more aggressive. ،the painter Tomas Esson (b. 1963), for instance combined images of Che and Castro with grotesque sexual and scatological imagery. In his notorious My Homage to Che ( 1987), he portrayed Che Guevara as a black man, partly obscured by two copulating humanoids.
Predictably, this sort of work was not readily tolerated by the Cuban authorities, whose reactions ranged from unease to outright censorship.
One of the most publicized incidents was the closure of Esson’s 1988 solo exhibition at a major Havana gallery, which included My homage to Che. In the debates that followed, the Cuban Minister of Culture, Armando Hart, declared any disrespectful use of national symbols out of hounds for Cuban artists. It is surely no coincidence that this crisis took place during the so-called ‘rectification’ process of the late eighties, which marked the end of the period of political and economic liberalization.

Tomas Esson | my homage to Che 1987

New Cuban Art is the most coherent contemporary school in the Caribbean and has received most international attention so far, but similar developments have occurred throughout the Caribbean, some of them triggered by the Cuban revival.The exposure to the Havana Biennial Crucial, for instance, to the development of contemporary art in the dominican Republic, as is illustrated by the recent installations of Tony Capellan (b. 1955), Belkis Ramirez (b. 1957) and Marcos Lori Read (b. 1965). Since 1992, the Dominican Republic has held its own international biennial, thc Santo Domingo Biennial of Caribbean and Central American Painting, which also promotes closer artistic contacts within the region.

Caribbean Art | Thames and Hudson Press 1998 by Veerle Poupeye
Dictionary of Twenieth century culture | Axford University press ,art Dept. 1996

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