Krasl Art Center offers glimpse of Cuba with ‘Arte Cubano’

With the future unknown for artists in Cuba, “Arte Cubano” gives visitors a glimpse into a part of the world that, to many, remains a mystery.

28 Dec Krasl Art Center offers glimpse of Cuba with ‘Arte Cubano’


At the Krasl Art Center, scratching the art is not allowed, but with at least one of the pieces currently on display, sniffing is encouraged.

“There are so few artists that are working with olfactory senses,” Krasl deputy director and curator Tami Miller says. “… This is the first piece in our galleries that really deals with that.”

The piece, titled “El Beso” or “The Kiss,” by Cuban artist Yoan Capote Puentes, features seven different colored bronze noses attached to a single mounting. Each of the to-scale castings, which display different physical attributes, contains a perfume-soaked sponge that visitors can lean in to smell.

“You have these different noses that are cast in bronze, and they’re slightly different colors, in slightly different shapes, so it’s referencing national and personal identity,” Miller says.

Leaning in to smell the work causes the participant to feel as if he or she is about to engage in a kiss, though a note on the exhibit does ask that those who take a sniff do so from at least 6 inches away.

“El Beso” is just one of the pieces currently on display as part to the “Arte Cubano” exhibit at the Krasl.

The traveling show features works by more than 25 Cuban artists using a variety of mediums. The pieces in the exhibit are borrowed from two private collectors. It was curated by Mid-America Arts Alliance/ExhibitsUSA and co-organized with the Center for Cuban Studies in New York City. It continues through Feb. 3 at the Krasl.

“I think it shows how diverse contemporary art is in general and how diverse Cuba is,” Miller says. “They have lots of different influences to their culture, including the Spanish, French, Caribbean, African, so I think you see different influences in their artwork.”

The exhibit features a variety of mediums, including photography, sculpture and painting.

Silvia Pedraza, a professor of sociology and American culture at the University of Michigan, viewed the exhibit when she gave a lecture about “generational politics, tracing shifts and differences in the attitudes and experiences of Cuban islanders and those who left” at the opening reception for “Arte Cubano.”

Speaking several days later from her office in Ann Arbor, Pedraza says that what struck her most about the exhibit was how often the theme of exodus and departure appeared in many of the works.

“There are airplanes in a lot of those pictures,” she says. “Even in the one that is the sculpture of Pinocchio, with his nose getting longer and longer and longer because either he has told a lot of lies or a lot of lies have been told to him.”

That plated cast bronze sculpture was created by Esterio Segura and is titled “Pinocho y Napoleón Cuentan la Historia,” which translates to “Pinocchio and Napoleon Tell the Story.”

The statue, which stands on top of a stack of history books, has a long nose that morphs into an airplane at the end. Its description states that Segura chose Pinocchio “to speak about and challenge the vagaries of written history.”

According to Pedraza, themes of departure and exodus are “major in the Cuban case — 20 to 25 percent of the Cuban population lives somewhere else.” Although she does note that because this particular exhibit comes from two collectors, the pieces in “Arte Cubano” also represent the individual collectors’ tastes.

Pedraza says she believes that prior to the Cuban Revolution, Cuban artists gravitated toward realism, depicting their country’s landscapes. Although these types of paintings are still popular in the work sold to tourists, for the most part, Cuban artists today, and in this exhibit in particular, tend to favor abstraction.

Because of the regime in place, Pedraza says, the people of Cuba have few ways to express themselves freely. Both of the country’s major newspapers belong to the government and although there are independent journalists in the country, they write for outside consumption because they are not allowed to publish in Cuba itself.

“Artists who work in a more symbolic sort of medium that can suggest without, you know, writing it all out, so to speak, have become the major medium of expression for sort of social criticism,” she says.

Today, the government continues to take aim at the remaining forms of expression. In fact, visual and performing artists are protesting in Cuba after new President Miguel Diaz-Canel signed Decree 349 shortly after taking office in April of this year. It prohibits artists from “providing their services” in any space open to the public without approval from the government.

According to a story from the Miami Herald, “The decree also establishes fines and seizures of property for painters and other artists who sell their works without government permission, as well as those who distribute music or videos that ‘use the national symbols in violation of existing law.’ It also punishes those who sell books ‘with content that damages ethic and cultural values’ and those who ‘make abusive use of electronic equipment or media.’”

Artists contend that the law will make it easier for the government to censor art by preventing artists that even have the appearance of criticizing the regime to display or sell their art, taking away their livelihood.

With the future unknown for artists in Cuba, “Arte Cubano” gives visitors a glimpse into a part of the world that, to many, remains a mystery.

“When you come to an exhibition like this, you’re going to see that Cubans do not always make art that looks like Cuban Folk Art,” Miller says. “… You might just think that Cuba is about a certain type of music, or a certain type of food, or a certain type of dance, so this is going to enrich and broaden your understanding of the culture. I think that we all need that.”


Frank Rodriguez Junior
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