The Cuban Project launched for the fall 2011 session on Oct. 13, 2011 hosted a reception and lecture meet-and-greet with artists Alejandro Aguilera and Osmeivy Ortega Pacheco.
“Our hope at Cleveland Institute of Art is the Cuba Project will enlighten our students on a cross-cultural experience of not just Cuba but the world,” said Saul Ostrow, Chair of Visual Arts and Technologies Environment.
He said the Cuban Project evolved from its original goal to find a single artist who will provide CIA students an inside perspective on the influence of culture and politics on Cuban art. Forty-four artists were interviewed and the selection committee realized the divergence of approach between artists from different generations shaped art in Cuba. The project shifted its focus to inviting more artists for shorter residencies throughout the year.
Additional Cuban artists include Abel Barroso Arencibia, Alex Hernández Dueñas, Meira Marrero Díaz, and José Angel Toirac Batista.
Ostrow said funding and support from Cleveland Foundation’s Creative Fusion Initiative made the project possible.
David C. Hart, Associate Professor of Art History at CIA said the artists will help shape understanding and dispel common myth about the island and broaden the view most US-American’s hold. He encourages students and audiences to engage in critical discourse and challenge all notions. Hart said the international appreciation of Cuban artists is unique to the island, “Not many artists have a bus load of tourists coming in to view their art.”
The five artists participating in the exchange program present a contemporary critique of Cuban society—for example, Ortega Pacheco is a printmaker who uses common materials to express a message of his prints. He is excited to explore what Cleveland has to offer. He spent time in Sweden as an exchange artists and said culture reflected in his art through the expensive materials he used in his prints. “No one would make eye contact with me;” he explained his desire was to engage the Swedes, who preferred to isolate themselves with cell phones and other technology.
Aguilera represents a different generation of Cuban artists. He left Cuba in 1989 to escape political pressure and lives in Atlanta, Ga. His work carries the essence of African religions and the undertone of racial tensions in Cuba. His father is a self-taught artist who was well respected for his work, but prevented from receiving an award because he was black.
Aguilera said growing up with that discrimination propelled him to be more expressive in his sculptures. Though living in the U. S. has also opened the possibility of unique collaborations. Crediting his wife’s love of shopping at T.J. Maxx, he discovered the cultural collections of artifacts imported worldwide. He uses the pieces as his base and adds his creative touches; “it’s collaboration with unknown artists,” he said.
Keynote speaker Dr. Alejandro de la Fuente, professor of History and Latin American studies at Pittsburgh, said racial discrimination and tensions in Cuba are not acknowledged publically. “Cubans do not talk about race and discrimination,” he said; instead, “it is considered a part of the distant past no longer relevant in contemporary society.”
The country made a conscious effort to eliminate discrimination by focusing on education and not discussing race. De la Fuente said nationalism took priority in the official identity of Cubans, but a consorted effort tried to eliminate the African cultures and religions. He said artists continued to keep the culture and traditions alive through their work but were largely ignored and depreciated.
Racial tensions surfaced as the country’s economy shifted to a tourist industry and lucrative jobs were awarded to light skinned Cubans; the darker skinned applicants were told, “They don’t have an appealing appearance,” said de la Fuente.
“The dream of a raceless, integrated Cuba remains a dream,” he said.
The Cuba Project: Cleveland Institute of Art will remain on display at MOCA till Dec. 31, 2011. For more information visit: www.cia.edu/cubaproject