Cuban art, like Cuban cuisine and demographics, offers a cosmopolitan blend of the various cultures that have been blended together over the past five centuries of the island’s life.
The styles incorporated by Cuban artists into their work include contemporary influences from North America and Europe, traditional tribal art from Native American and African cultures, and visual styles that are unique to the Caribbean.
For much of the history of Cuba, the dominant Spanish-European styles dictated the artistic professions, with classicism reigning for painting, sculpture, and architecture. Only within the last one hundred years, have the traditions been overwritten with new styles becoming more prominent.
During The Colonial Years
From 1500 to 1900, the Spanish empire controlled Cuba and many of the islands within the Caribbean. Spanish politics ruled the day as only the wealthy landowners of the island had the money to commission portraits, landscapes, busts, or buildings. Classicism and neoclassicism as espoused by the Spanish schools of art (also known as the Rococo movement) influenced Cuban art.
Realism and romanticism were major hallmarks, with little subjectivity on the part of the individual artist’s work.
Independence and New Cuban Culture
When Cuba won its freedom from Spain in 1898, many prominent artists began to be able to challenge the status quo of the island’s cultural scene. During the first decades of self-rule, a major break from the conventional came from the Vanguardia artists, a counter-culture revolutionary cause, illustrated Cuban life through surrealism and cubism rather than the conventional workings that Cuban art schools espoused.
The dictator Gerardo Machado and control of the island by prominent American interests caused many Cuban artists to take up the revolutionary cause through their paintbrushes and chisels, portraying the poor of their nation as a means of identity rather than re-illustrating the wealthy elite as had been the trend for centuries. Vanguardia leader Eduardo Abela had studied painting in Paris and applied his schooling in primitivism (or non-Western art style) to championing the cause. One of the many major works undertaken by Abela was murals in major cities that portrayed working class persons and poor families. Such paintings became tools for politicians and journalists criticizing the Machado regime.
Painter Antonio Gattorno’s work The Siesta represents the strain of workers who had oppressive work conditions.
Revolution and Rebirth
When Cuba cast off Machado in 1959 and formed a socialist nation under control of Fidel Castro, the visual art scene lay at a crossroads. Some left the country to pursue better financial opportunities, especially since a large amount of art revenue had come from American tourists visiting Cuba.
Others stayed in order to produce government-sponsored art. Some artists embraced the socialist revolution. Alberto Korda, perhaps the best-known Cuban artist of all time, was a photographer who explicitly chronicled the socialist revolutions across Latin America; his picture of Che Guevara has become the iconic image of the Marxist revolution in South America. Since the socialist party of Cuba censored art, non-revolutionary content was discouraged; not until the 1980s would artists return to making works that had no pressure from state influence.
This trend can be attributed in part to works in the 1970s and 80s that changed the tone of the dialogue on artistic freedom; a new national art school was founded in 1976 and an annual exhibition titled Volume One allowed any artist to portray their work. The Spontaneous movement developed to contrast government sponsorship, creating mediums of expression that developed organically. Spontaneous artists struggled to finance their work, however, and remained largely unknown.
Modern Cuba and Modern Art
Today, the restrictions on artistic license have been mostly lifted even as the socialist government remains the number one source of funding and employment for Cuban artists. Recurring themes in contemporary Cuban works are the attempt to keep culture alive in an era of national homogeneity and globalism.
The Grupo Bayate, an organization of Cuban “Naive” (or non-western) artists, has portrayed works of Cuban communities and traditions rarely seen by outsiders through collections in Cuba as well as North and South America. The Grupo Bayate is headed by Luis Rodriguez, whose son Luis also paints for the organization.
Father and son illustrate everyday life in Cuba from sources that have little means of exposure; paintings of sugarcane workers and Catholic religious rituals are contrasted by the few native tribes of Cuba that retain ethnic identities and practices.
New Art and New Artists
Conceptual art as a means of expressing ideas rather than subjects became a trend in Cuban painting during the 1970s and 1980s. This type of visual style requires a much greater emotional investment in a piece by the viewer, leading them to create their own conclusions rather than have the artist directly speak to the subject matter. New Artists in Cuban exhibitions like “Volume Uno” include Tomas Sanchez, whose urban graffiti paintings illustrate the subjectivity of expression.
Ana Mendieta, who has created a long legacy since her early death, created the Silueta Series of land and body sculptures that combined the physical with the human for what she called an “earth-body” experience. She would use her own body as well as that of models silhouetted in dirt, grass, fire, and rock in order to blur the lines between the world and the life upon it.
Lucy Lippard, who has written nearly two dozen books on contemporary art, blended together aesthetics with politics in her Lure of the Local series to better integrate the emotional and the intellectual.
by Steve McClellan
GroupM has created a new unit designed to help beef up the operation’s multicultural offering. It will be led by Gonzalo Del Fa, currently managing director of MEC Bravo, the Hispanic specialist unit at GroupM media shop MEC. …Read the whole story
by Wayne Friedman
By many measures, the mergers and acquisitions of media and marketing companies have slowed down for the start of 2013. The first quarter of 2013 witnessed a 30% slowdown to $8.2 billion from $11.2 billion in the first quarter of 2012. The value of deals was down nearly 70% from $25.6 billion in the fourth quarter of 2012. …Read the whole story
by Wayne Friedman
Television station-centric LIN Media has made its second digital marketing acquisition in a week. The Providence, R.I.-based TV group has bought a majority stake in Dedicated Media, a digital advertising buying and optimization firm that looks to maximize efforts of advertising clients campaigns. …Read the whole story
by David Goetzl
Gobal ad spending increased 3.2% to $557 billion last year, propelled by a robust third quarter, which included the Olympics. The quarter’s 4.3% bump outpaced the 2.5% increase in the final three months, thanks to the holiday season. Increases are projected for 2014 and the Winter Olympics. …Read the whole story
by Erik Sass
TargetSpot has added Xbox Music to the list of affiliates for its digital audio advertising network, the company just announced. The partnership gives TargetSpot advertisers access to streaming audio inventory delivered via Microsoft Xbox consoles as well as Windows 8 and Windows RT tablet computers and PCs, and Windows Phone 8 mobile devices. …Read the whole story
by Steve McClellan
WPP CEO Martin Sorrell is reportedly the richest person in the UK’s marketing and communications sector, with an estimated worth of $320 million. The news comes amid ongoing talks between investors and WPP over remuneration paid to Sorrell and other high-ranking executives at the company. …Read the whole story
by Wayne Friedman
National Geographic Channel says interactive activity for its Sunday night programs has raised time spent with the network. Viewing time has been boosted by 25% over the last six months for its Sunday night prime-time shows: “Wicked Tuna, “Alaska State Troopers,” and “Doomsday Preppers.” …Read the whole story
by David Goetzl
The ad-supported free streaming of every March Madness game saw a massive traffic bounce for the length of the tournament. The nearly 50 million live streams were up 168% versus a year ago. …Read the whole story
by Mark Walsh
The popularity of combined print and digital subscriptions, fueled by the rise of tablets and smartphones, is one factor helping to stabilize overall magazine circulation in the second half of 2012. Adobe has been among the companies behind the surge of digital editions in the last two years. …Read the whole story