SECCA examines Cuban culture through art

“The artists are motivated for the space and the show, and they are pushing themselves.”

03 Sep SECCA examines Cuban culture through art


An exhibition by artists educated in Cuba, living in the U.S. and other countries, aims to open viewers’ minds and eyes to new visions of the Caribbean nation.

Forget about images of 1950s and ’60s American cars, crumbling colonial edifices and happy mambo-dancing citizens. These 19 multi-generational artists, from 27 to 74, present a different view of their homeland.

“Cubans: Post Truth, Pleasure and Pain” was curated by Elvia Rose Castro and her former student Gretel Acosta. Castro moved to Winston-Salem about 1½ years ago, and Acosta came about a year ago. Both are from Cuba.

Castro and Acosta designed the exhibition specifically for the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, where it will open with a reception and panel discussion on June 7.

They contacted artists whose work they admired and invited them to make or pull from existing work: paintings, sculptures, photographs, videos, multi-media installations and performances for the spaces at SECCA. The show will be in the upstairs Potter Gallery and the main gallery downstairs.

“We invited artists who represent different ways of working, different ideologies and aesthetics,” Castro said.

“We are trying to show a background of the country from the ’70s to now,” Acosta said.

The Curator’s Statement for the show says, in part: “The artists share two main characteristics: (1) they received their education on the island, (2) they don’t have a passive or pleasurable approach to their context. The exhibition criticizes every type of fundamental political power, including the standardization of Western binary thought; and questions notions of gender, race, censorship, emigration, fragmentation and the authority of official history.”

“If you come here, you can see all of those,” Castro said. “The exhibition has an anthropological value. It is our history of our culture.

“All of the artists in the show have something to say. They are questioning context and reality.”

“It’s not art for art’s sake,” Acosta said. “They have a message.”

One of them, José Bedia, 59, who lives and works in Miami, has two pieces in the Potter Gallery. Both are predominately black and white with a few splashes of unexpected color on tiny garments in the triptych, “Babalú Ayé,” 2016, and wooden sticks in “Piango Piango Llega Lejos/Step by Step, We Go Far,” a large multi-media installation.

Made of acrylic, strings of beads and fabric on burlap, “Babalú Ayé” “constitutes a meeting point between two often separate but not mutually exclusive systems: Western culture and so-called primitive cultures (also labeled subordinate or marginal cultures),” according to the legend accompanying the piece.

Cuba was inhabited by various Mesoamerican cultures before to the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Then, Cuba became a Spanish colony, ruled by a Spanish governor in Havana. It gained formal independence in 1902 after changing hands among Great Britain, Spain and the U.S.for 150 years.

In the years after independence, Cuba experienced economic development, political corruption and a succession of totalitarian leaders, ending in the overthrow of the dictator Fulgencio Batista by Fidel and Raúl Castro in the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Since then, Cuba has since been governed as a socialist state by the Communist Party under the leadership of the Castros. In April, Raul Castro stepped down as the country’s president, and handed the reigns of that office to Miguel Diaz-Canel.

The installation, “Piango Piango,” shows Native American influences and includes a painting on canvas, sculptures of dogs, chains and the wooden sticks, which are significant in Santería ceremony.

“He brought the sticks from Miami,” Castro said. “Each stick has a name. … He was going to paint directly on the wall, but he decided to paint on canvas so that SECCA can keep the piece when the show is over.”

Both works refer to Santería, an Afro-Cuban religion that merges aspects the Yoruba religion from West Africa with Christianity.

Characters in the two pieces include Changó, the Yoruba god, or orisha, of justice, thunder and fire, who corresponds to the Catholic Saint Barbara; and Babalú Ayé, whose name is “Father of the World,” and who corresponds to Saint Lazarus.

One of the younger artists, Ariel Cabrera from New York, is doing an installation in the main gallery.

“It’s going to be the largest piece in his career,” Castro said. “He’s going to push himself to do paintings that pop up in front of the main painting, so it will be three-dimensional.

“The artists are motivated for the space and the show, and they are pushing themselves.”

Frank Rodriguez Junior
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