Six renowned Cuban artists in the post-Soviet era who create works of art bearing witness to the intense economic and daily struggles that Cubans experience will be showcased in Archives of Consciousness: 6 Cuban Artists. The exhibition, on view at Fairfield University’s Art Museum Jan. 24-May 15, presents art that is inventive, ripe in symbolism and surprisingly tinged with humor, all the while making connections to the past.
“There is a constant dialogue in Cuban art with the past and the present,” says exhibition curator Lillian Guerra. “The title, Archives of Consciousness, came about because there is an archival quality to the work even though they differ immensely in terms of the materials used and the nature of the art. We have a lot of sculptures, paintings and mixed media, so the actual presentation of these ideas is really diverse but they are in dialogue with one another.”
Cuban art often references the greater diaspora, religion, history, politics or social factors such as emigration or economics. The exhibition asks viewers to ponder life in Cuba’s revolutionary society, a deeply impoverished country where citizens show a remarkable resourcefulness and ingenuity in spite of the challenges they face.
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The 50 pieces on display are from the private collection of Greenwich attorneys Terri and Steven Certilman, who began collecting Cuban art in 1998. The diversity of styles in the art they discovered on buying trips to Cuba immediately captivated the couple. “Another thing we loved about it was the relationships with the many artists whose work we have,” Steven says. “It’s so easy to meet the artists and to learn about them, their works and what inspires them and to buy the works through them, rather than a gallery.”
The six artists are Juan Roberto Diago Durruthy, Manuel Mendive, Eduardo Roca Salazar (“Choco”), Abel Barroso Arencibia, Mabel Poblet Pujol, and Luis Enrique Camejo Vento. Their artwork creates a dialogue spanning decades and addresses the paradoxes of how capitalism and Communism under the one-party rule existed. They paint a picture of life in Cuba then and now, shaped by legacies of migration, slavery and overcontrolling governments with the average Cuban showing strength in the face of adversity.
Pujol, represented here with collages and photographic prints, says the exhibition title alludes to the individual and collective conscience of a person and the accumulation of memories and histories in memory. Some works were also inspired by visits to women’s prisons in Cuba. “The works I am showing address the immediate experiences of life, personal memory of my family, my friends, my generation; [they are] everyday reflections on old and new dilemmas such as life, death, love, heartbreak, the processes of failing to communicate and of communication … ”
Influenced by the Arte Povera movement (“poor art” in Italian, marked by the use of common materials), Diago says his work, mostly using found materials like nylon, wood and cement, explores slavery issues, relationships to the African diaspora and how the past has become the present. Barroso creates incredibly detailed and humorous works such as Lounge Chair, made of thousands of pencil shavings.
“The immense creativity that defines this art also defines Cuba and Cubans, so there is a real Cuba that is represented in each one of these pieces, and it is a very complex Cuba,” Guerra says.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Fairfield University Art Museum will present a range of programs open to the public, including these events.
Jan. 23, 5 p.m.
Opening-night lecture by curator Lillian Guerra, Quick Center, Wien Experimental Theatre
Guerra, a history professor at the University of Florida, says she hopes audiences will see that Cubans are extremely resourceful and capable of political analysis. “They are their greatest asset,” she says. An opening reception follows from 6-8 p.m. and will be attended by artists Mabel Poblet Pujol and Juan Roberto Diago Durruthy.
Feb. 7, 1-4 p.m.
Panels and film screenings, DiMenna-Nyselius Library, multimedia room
The panel discussion, The History of Cuba and Cuban-American Relations, with a selection of Cuban live-action short films, will be followed by a roundtable conversation, Film in Contemporary Cuba. On Feb. 13 at 5 p.m., there will be a screening of Wheel of Life in the Wien Experimental Theatre.
Feb. 26, 5 p.m.
Lecture, The Art of Manuel Mendive, Quick Center for the Arts, Wien Experimental Theatre
Considered one of Cuba’s greatest living artists, Mendive is renowned for his mixed-media works and is greatly influenced by African heritage and the Santeria religion of Cuba. Presented by Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz, associate professor, department of art history, Indiana University.
April 2, 5 p.m.
Lecture, The Art of Black Mobilization: Racial Justice and the Visual Arts in Cuba and Latin America, DiMenna-Nyselius Library, multimedia room
The talk addressing this integral component of Cuban art will be given by Alejandro de la Fuente, the Robert Woods Bliss professor of Latin American history and economics, professor of African and African-American studies, Harvard. And on April 23 at 5 p.m., at the Quick Center, Walsh Gallery, Steven Certilman will give a gallery talk on collecting Cuban art.
Archives of Consciousness: Six Cuban Artists
Walsh Gallery, Quick Center for the Arts, Fairfield University
Jan. 24-May 16