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Cuban art is a very diverse cultural blend of African, European and North American design reflecting the diverse demographic of the island. Cuban artists embraced European modernism and the early part of the 20th century saw a growth in Cuban vanguardism movements, these movements were characterized by a mixture of modern artistic genres. Some of the more celebrated 20th century Cuban artists include Amelia Peláez (1896-1968), best known for a series of mural projects and painter Wifredo Lam (1902-1982) who created a highly personal version of modern primitivism.

In Havana Centre, a small neighborhood of artists have transformed the walls around them. October 2002

More internationally known is the work of photographer Alberto Korda, whose photographs following the early days of the Cuban Revolution included a picture of Che Guevara which was to become one of the most recognizable images of 20th century. There is a flourishing street art movement influenced by Latin American artists José Guadalupe Posada and the muralist Diego Rivera

In the late 19th century, landscapes dominated Cuban art and classicism was still the preferred genre.[1]

The radical artistic movements that transformed European art in the first decades of the century arrived in Latin America in the 1920s to form part of a vigorous current of artistic, cultural, and social innovation.[2]

By the late 1920s, the Vanguardia artists had rejected the academic conventions of Cuba’s national art academy. In their formative years, many had lived in Paris, where they studied and absorbed the tenets of surrealism, cubism, and modernist primitivism. Modernism burst on the Cuban scene as part of the critical movement of national regeneration that arose in opposition to the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado, American neo-colonial control and the consequent economic crisis.[3] They returned to Cuba committed to new artistic innovation and keen to embrace the heritage of their island. These artists became increasingly political in their ideology, viewing the rural poor as symbols of national identity in contrast to the ruling elite of post independence Cuba. The vanguardia artists achieved international recognition in 2003 with the Modern Cuban Painting show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, subsequently showing in Paris.[4]

Vanguard leader [Eduardo Abela] was typical of the movement, a painter who studied in Paris, Abela discovered his homeland Cuba from abroad apparently motivated by a combination of distance and nostalgia. On his return, Abela entered a highly productive period of work. His murals of Cuban life were complemented by cartoons which became social critiques of Cuban life under authoritarian president Gerardo Machado.[5]

After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, Cuban artists became more isolated from the anti-establishment artistic movements of the United States and Europe. Though artists continued to produce work in Cuba, many pursued their careers in exile.

While some artists felt it was in their best interests to leave Cuba and produce their art, some artists stayed behind, either happy or merely content to be creating art in Cuba, which was sponsored by the government. Because it was state sponsored, an implied censorship occurred, since artists wouldn’t want to make art that was against the revolutionary movement as that was the source of their funding. It was during the 1980s in which art began to reflect true uninfluenced expression. The “rebirth” of expression in Cuban art was greatly affected by the emergence of a new generation of Cuban. This generation did not remember the revolution directly, nor did they feel angst from having not been a larger part in forming the nation. [6]

By the late 1970s many of the graduates of the school of the arts in Cuba, “the Facultad de Artes Plasticas of the Instituto Superior de Arte” (founded in 1976) were going to work as schoolteachers, teaching art to young Cubans across the island. This gave a platform for the graduates to be able to teach students about freedom of expression. This meant freedom of expression in many forms including medium, message, and style of art. It was this new level of experimentation and expression that was able to enable the movement of the 1980s.[7]

Cubans saw the introduction of an art exhibit titled “Volumen Uno” in 1981, an exhibit that featured contemporary Cuban artists displaying their work in a series of one man exhibitions. Three years later, the introduction of the “Havana Bienal” assisted in the further progression of the liberation of art and free speech therein. [8]

This age of artist was dedicated to people who were willing to take risks in their art and truly express themselves, rather than to express only things that supported the political movement. While looking at art of the 1980s we see a trend in use of the shape of Cuba itself as inspiration for art. One piece, Immediately Geographic by artist Florencio Gelabert Soto, is a sculpture in the shape of Cuba, but is broken into many pieces. One interpretation could reflect the still unequal treatment towards artists, and the repression they were under. A movement that mirrored this artistic piece was underway in which the shape of Cuba became a token in the artwork in a phase known as “tokenization.” This artwork often combined the shape of the island of Cuba with other attributes of the nation, such as the flag. By combining the various symbols of Cuba together the artists were proudly proclaiming ‘this is who we are’. Some art critics and historians however will argue that this was partially due to the isolated nature of the island, and that use of the island in artwork represented a feeling of being alone; as with all art, the intention of the artist can have many interpretations.[9]

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[edit] Vanguardia artists

Among the pioneers were Antonio Gattorno, whose oil The Siesta, represents the apogee of the Cuban-inspired painting and the starting point of the surrealist cycle,[10] Eduardo Abela, Fidelio Ponce de León, and Carlos Enríquez Gómez. Born around the turn of the century, these artists grew up in turmoil of constructing a new nation and reached maturity when Cubans engaged in discovering and inventing a national identity. They fully shared in the sense of confidence, renovation, and nationalism that characterized Cuban progressive intellectuals in the second quarter of the twentieth century.

Antonio Gattorno and Eduardo Abela were the earliest painters of their generation to adapt modern European and Mexican art to the interpretation of their Cuban subjects. They also found in the directness and idealization of early Renaissance painting an effective model for their expression of Cuban themes. These painters’ criollo images, for all their differences, shared a modern primitivism view of Cuba as an exotic, timeless, and rural inhabited land inhibited by simple and sensual, if also sad and melancholic people. Although rooted in Cuba’s natural and cultural environment, the vision of lo cubano (the Cuban) was far removed from contemporary historical reality. Instead it was based on an ideal conception of patria that had been a component of Cuban nationalism and art since the nineteenth century.[11] The emphasis which Enríquez and Ponce placed on the themes of change, transformation, and death have had an enduring impact on Cuban art.[12] Enríquez and Ponce represent two approaches to death: the first marked by exuberant flight and emotion; the second by moody contemplation. If Enríquez painted the delirium after the triumphed siege, Ponce painted the anteroom of grief.

The masters of the first generation of Cuban modernism set the stage for the prevalence of certain themes that would govern Cuban art after 1930, and which would have varying degrees of impact on those generations that would later emerge entirely in exile after 1960. Between 1934 and 1940, and still reeling from the overthrow of Machado, Cuba was searching for its cultural identity in its European and African roots. The landscape, flora, fauna, and lore of the island, as well as its peasants-the often neglected foundation of Cuba’s soul and economy-emerged in its art.[13] Modern Cuban artists continue to do significant work in this tradition, including Juan Ramón Valdés Gómez (called Yiki) and Jose Angel Toirac Batista.

[edit] Naïve art

The foremost leader of Naïve art in Cuba is José Rodríguez Fuster, known as Fuster. Over the years Fuster has transformed the grey and poor suburb of Jaimanitas, Havana, into a magical dreamlike streetscape. He has drawn on his expertise as a ceramist to create a Gaudí-like environment that recalls that of the Barcelona artist and architect in his famous Parque Güell. There is the chess park, with giant boards and tables, houses individually decorated with ornate murals and domes, a riot of giant roosters, gauchos, Afro-Cuban religious figures installed by the entrance of many houses, a Fusterised theatre, public squares and a gigantic mural.

Manuel Mendive is perhaps the single most important exponent of contemporary Afro-cubanismo in the visual arts, was born in 1944 into a Santería-practicing family. He graduated from the prestigious Academia de Artes Plásticas San Alejandro in Havana in 1962 with honors in sculpture and painting.

[edit] External links

[edit] References

  1. ^ Cuban Culture
  2. ^ Martínez, Juan. Cuban Art and National Identity. Florida: University Press Florida, 1994: 1.
  3. ^ Ades, Dawn. Art in Latin America: The Modern Era, 1820-1980. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989: 7
  4. ^ Cuban Art and National Identity: The Vanguardia Painters Juan A. Martínez
  5. ^ Eduardo Abela Cubanet
  6. ^ Padura Fuentes, Leonardo. “Living and Creating in Cuba: Risks and Challenges”. Reinventing the Revolution: A Contemporary Cuba Reader. Ed. Philip Brenner et al. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008. 348-354. Print.
  7. ^ Tonel, Antonio Eligio. “A Tree From Many Shores: Cuban Art in Movement.” Art Journal. 57.4 (1998) 62-74. Print.
  8. ^ Tonel, Antonio Eligio. “A Tree From Many Shores: Cuban Art in Movement.” Art Journal. 57.4 (1998) 62-74. Print.
  9. ^ Fernandez, Antonio Eligio. “The Island, the Map, the Travelers: Notes on Recent Developments in Cuban Art.” Boundary 2. 29.3 (2002) 77-90. Print.
  10. ^ Alonso, Alejandro G., Contreras, Pedro, and Fagiuoli, Martino. Havana Deco. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2007: 162
  11. ^ Martínez, Juan. Cuban Art and National Identity. Florida: University Press Florida, 1994: 109
  12. ^ Cruz-Taura, Graciella, Fuentes-Perez, Ileana, and Pau-Llosa, Ricardo. Outside Cuba. New Jersey: Office of Hispanic Arts Mason Gross School of the Arts, 1988: 44
  13. ^ Cruz-Taura, Graciella, Fuentes-Perez, Ileana, and Pau-Llosa, Ricardo. Outside Cuba. New Jersey: Office of Hispanic Arts Mason Gross School of the Arts, 1988: 44
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