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Art Show in Arizona:  Sep 27 - Dec 13, 1998
Contemporary Art in Cuba: Irony and Survival on the Utopian Island

This is an interesting exhibit.  The majority of the 20 artists represented are AfroCuban.


TEMPE, Ariz. - Americans will have a unique opportunity to glimpse a hidden world when a groundbreaking exhibition of contemporary Cuban art opens at the Arizona State University Art Museum in September.

'Contemporary Art from Cuba: Irony and Survival on the Utopian Island,' will provide a window through which Americans can view art created in a society that is closed to most of them. It is the first major  exhibition in the United States dedicated entirely to the work of the new generation of Cuba artists and will present work by approximately 20 artists working on the island today. The exhibibition will open to the public on Sunday, Sept. 27 and run through Sunday, Dec. 13.

Many of the artists will attend the opening of the exhibition and create installations and other artwork in the galleries during the opening week of 'Contemporary Art from Cuba.' They will interact with the public at the museum and give talks to public groups, school classes and university students at other locations. A presentation by two artists, followed by a question and answer session with the audience, is planned for the evening of Friday, Oct. 2.

Without taking sides on issues, 'Contemporary Art from Cuba' will include work that reflects various views of the revolution and the realities of life under the United States' embargo. The artists speculate on Cuba's complex past, its love/hate relationship with the United States and its combination of African, European and Asian cultures.

"Contemporary Art from Cuba' represents an unparalleled milestone for Cuban art and awareness of that art in the United States, according to its curator, the director and chief curator of the ASU Art Museum, Marilyn A. Zeitlin.

"This is a Golden Age of art in Cuba," Zeitlin said. "Cuba's isolation has produced an artistic output that is fresh and independent. Nothing seems jaded or self-indulgent, but rather full of vitality and relevance to the core issues of living."

The artists in this exhibition are young, ranging in age from 24 - 39. The majority is Afro-Cuban and many have been educated at art school for as long as 12 years.

"The extraordinary intelligence of these artists is made available to us through the high skill they all have," Zeitlin said. "They draw like masters, not like young people, with control and verve at the same time."

Aware of Cuba's unique situation, the artists use their finely honed skills and knowledge of art history cleverly. They exploit metaphor to circumvent the censor and comment on shortages, surveillance, incipient racism, Miami and the tragedy of the "balseros" (boat people) who left on makeshift rafts.

"Cuban artists of the '90s generation have forged a vocabulary that expresses to an amazing degree what cannot be said outright, resulting in work that is always in a tension of double of triple meanings," Zeitlin said.

Yet while they are part of a generation that voices skepticism about the pieties of the socialist revolution, they remain loyal Cubans.

"The artists explore the contradictions between revolutionary rhetoric and Cuban reality, but they also express their pride at being part of a historical experiment and that they are survivors," Zeitlin said.

Among the Cuban artists whose work will be featured in the exhibition are KCHO, Los Carpinteros and Pedro Alvarez.

The artists featured in the exhibition explore irony as a strategy for psychological survival and oblique commentary. Embedded in their art is the notion that when political and personal problems are inescapable, humor may be one of the few outlets for frustration and anger.

Their work also exemplifies the concept of "inventando," the improvisation and creative resourcewfulness required for everyday survival in Cuba.

"Inventando" is one of three major themes that emerge again and again throughout 'Contemporary Art from Cuba.' It demonstrates the creativity and inventiveness of the Cubans, a skill that helps them solve problems, deal with poverty and simply survive.

The second theme found in the artwork, "the special condition of being an island," focuses on the sea, boats, bridges and isolation, addressing the separation created initially by geography and augmented by politics and the economic embargo.

The final theme, "the rhetoric of history," addresses the difference between the promises and the realities of societies and political systems in both Cuba and the United States. Works in this catagory attempt to peel back the lies of history.

"These are persistent concepts that I saw recurring again and again in the artwork," Zeitlin said. "They are three strands the run throughout the exhibition, with many of the pieces featuring two or even all three of these concepts."

ASU Art Museum enjoys an impressive reputation for organizing and presenting ehibitions of international significance, including the 1995 Venice Biennale featuring the work of Bill Viola and 'Art Under Duress: El Salvador 1980 to Present.'

'Contemporary Art from Cuba' will open to the public with a free reception from 2 - 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 27. A special preview followed by Club Tropicana, a party on the plaza, will commence at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 26. Salsa music combined with Cuban-style food and drink will create the mood for dancing and mingling with the Cuban artists. Tickets for the preview and party will cost $50.

After its inauguration in Tempe, 'Contemporary Art from Cuba' will begin a national tour that is being developed by Independent Curators International (ICI), New York. ICI is a non-profit organization that specializes in circulating challenging and innovative exhibitions of contemporary art in the United State and abroad. For further information regarding the exhibition's tour, please contact ICI at (212) 254-8200.

'Contemporary Art from Cuba' has been organized in collaboration with the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), Havana. Publications and education programs related to this project have been generously supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation and Arizona Commission on the Arts.

For more information on 'Contemporary Art from Cuba: Irony and Survival on the Utopian Island,' please contact Arizona State University Art Museum at (602) 965-2787 or visit the website at:

Arizona State University Art Museum
Tenth Street and Mill Avenue
Tempe, Arizona 85287-2911

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