There’s a celebration of Cuban arts and culture in NYC from March until June 2011 called the !Sí Cuba! Festival and I’ve missed most of what I wanted to see (including the Cuban choreographers working with Ballet Hispanico) but I did manage to make it to Cuban Visions, which is an exhibit of contemporary Cuban artists (only two don’t live in Cuba; the rest live in Cuba but travel outside the island) that was running just for Memorial Day weekend. The exhibit was on the entire second floor of the Metropolitan Pavillion, which is on 18th Street off Fifth Avenue.
Before you walk in you can hear it. There are three videos plus one painting with small speakers and depending on where you stand the noise could get a bit overwhelming. The first video “Inner Sea” was by Glenda León and it was 1:19 minutes of the waves coming to shore. Since I’d just been to the beach the day before and the water was a chilly 60 degrees it was hard for me feel the warm waters of the Caribbean.
Next to it was Eduardo Ponjuán’s “Monument,” which was a lightening rod of copper and nickel Cuban coins measuring 66.2 inches – the height of Jose Martí. It was made in Leningrad in 1962. A bronze and nickel steel sculpture of an arm holding a small pickaxe was very powerful – Estero Segura’s “The Right Hand” was laying on the floor and was so muscular that you could feel strain.
The first piece to really catch my eye was Luis Enrique Camejo’s “Accumulation #2” from the series “Malecon.” The painting is a crowded sea wall all in blue and the brush strokes are broad and light so that it feels like the painting has been washed by the ocean.
The next piece I liked was Aimée García’s “Guard.” It was actually five pieces – all metal cut out to look like different types of children’s clothing. And there was thread sewn onto each piece as decoration. It was fascinating to get up close and see this armor-like clothing with delicate embroidery actually sewn in. There was a fun-looking sculpture from José Emilio Fuentes Fonseca made of polychrome metal. It looked like a inflated apple (even had a place to blow the air in), slightly deflated and it was called “New York.”
The painting with the speakers was José Ángel Vincench’s “Abstract painting that speaks.” To my eyes there wasn’t anything special about the painting itself – it was a big piece covering the corner of one room – but each end had a tiny tinny speaker. One was playing the Cuban national anthem and the other was so tinny that I couldn’t make out what the music was. Plus there was another video installation nearby that ran for 14 minutes and was playing loud music. That was a 16mm film transferred to video. The sound was all music and the sights were all modern-day Cuba. In Juan Carlos Alom’s “Havana solo” one scene used old familiar (to me from my childhood) music and when the pans of Havana came on I would swear it was the 1950s except for the modern day dress on the people. Another scene had a pregnant woman in white singing an aria a cappella at the sea while in a room a man played a very funky bass solo. The mix of the classical and the modern wasn’t jarring just like the music and Cuban scenes weren’t.
Alom also had a big print “Kini Kini” of a doll head with thorns coming out of it that was disturbing. But not as disturbing as Adonis Flores’ “Chrysalis,” which was a body wrapped in leather. There was only one foot and leg in the middle and the boot laced up the entire body covering the head. You could see the arms on the side straining against the leather and it brought up all my suffocation fears. Another weird image was Carlos Estévez’ “Camera-man,” which is a carved wooden-head with camera lenses stuck all over it.
René Peña’s photos will make you think of Mapplethorpe and I was surprised that a Cuban artist could get away with the homoerotic imagery. One really beautiful photo was a black man squatting, wearing a long-sleeved white shirt, shoes, and no pants or underwear. I can’t find a photo of that but this is another – “Black Marat” – this looks like a self-portrait.
This is Untitled:
In this photo you can see the other Untitled that I referred to:
René Francisco Rodríguez’ “Lying Bodies” was another political piece – five paintings of a body marked out like a chalk outline – people move from the outside to inside and back out again and their movements change the position of the body.
Cirenaica Moreira’s Untitled from the series “Eyes that saw you leave…” is another beautiful political portrait.
José Ángel Toirac and Meira Marrero had two very powerful political pieces. The first “Heads or Tails” is a series of drawings of heads and it isn’t until you get close that you realize that they’re all dead. Half the group are revolutionaries assassinated before the revolution by Batista’s men and the other half are Batista supporters assassinated after the revolution by Castro’s men. The only way you can tell the difference is the background color – red or black – the colors of the revolution.
Their second piece was a very short video “Shoot, Tribute to Chris Burden.” The narrator tells you that he was shot in the arm for the video and it only last eight seconds. There is a quick image of body lying on the ground. So in the meantime to fill out the video he will show other images – there is film of Castro making a speech, the Cuban legislature, Ché gesturing and speaking, a handcuffed political prisoner taken out of bus and then, with the cuffs off, walking with soldiers and the prisoner is talking and pointing out things. There is no sound except the narrator’s voice telling us that just before he is shot you can hear him say, “Are you ready?” and then you hear the casing fall. So be ready – here it comes. And what we see is the political prisoner shot in front and falling backwards into a ditch. It all happens so quickly that you have to watch again and then you realize that the quick image of the body lying on the ground is that of the prisoner after he’d been killed.
By Carene Lydia Lopez