Cuba-ism

Young artists break through the red tape to star in ASU Art Museum's new exhibit, "Contemporary Art From Cuba: Irony and Survival on the Utopian Island"

Moreover, because there is no direct trade between the two countries, it is expensive and complicated to ship works of art. So much so that Zeitlin chose instead to purchase about a quarter of the show (for something less than $50,000) during her studio visits in Cuba. She carried the art back with her on the plane, and borrowed the remainder of the works from collections in Mexico, the United States and Canada.

The other obstacle is political.
And Mosquera knows it well. Over the years, because of his outspoken support of many of the Cuban artists who went into exile in the 1980s and early 1990s, he says he has been gradually stripped of his ability to pursue his work in Cuba.

He lives in Havana, but has to work elsewhere. He serves as a curator at the New Museum in New York. He contributes to books and museum catalogues in North and South America and Europe.

"The problem here is that the Cuban institutions really don't want to work with me," he says, "because in a way I'm sort of a dissident and they're not very friendly. I am not invited to events. I'm out."

He has remained active and involved at the street and studio level of Cuba's art scene. "But I can't publish here, can't organize a show here. It's impossible for me. I'm a taboo person here."

That taboo isn't limited to Cuba. Two years ago, the Miami Center for the Fine Arts--now the Miami Art Museum--invited him to participate in a panel discussion about the work of a Mexican photographer. But shortly before the event, anti-Castro exiles harassed people attending a concert by Cuban jazz pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. The center quickly canceled Mosquera's invitation.

Carin Quoni, director of exhibitions at Independent Curators International in New York, the organization hired to arrange and oversee the traveling version of the ASU exhibition, says that an establishment in Miami is among the American institutions considering hosting the show. She won't say which one. And Zeitlin and other ASU museum officials say they can't remember.

Fred Snitzer and others in Miami say they can't think of any area museums that would be willing to take on such a show. The anti-Castro Cuban exiles have long protested and successfully scuttled events featuring Cuban artists.

"Quite honestly, I don't think a majority of people feel that way," says Vivian Rodriguez, executive director of Metro Dade Public Art Program. "But it doesn't take a majority to create problems. I think you'll find a majority of Cubans living in this community willing to separate culture and politics." She says it is not easy for some to do, citing the case of one of her most supportive board members who is also a human rights activist. "As a teenager in Cuba," says Rodriguez, "she was imprisoned by Castro. She has very strong feelings about that, and she's not about to sweep things under the rug, as if to say, okay, never mind the last 30 or 40 years."

Snitzer says that the fact that most of his artists are Cuban exiles would make it difficult for him to show works by Cubans, or even travel there to see the new work being done.

"Whatever the reality is--I don't know the reality and you don't--it's Nazi Germany for [the exiles]. It's nothing short of that."

Zeitlin says she understands the complexity of the emotions that this show might arouse for Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.

"We're not pursuing it all that assiduously," Zeitlin says of a Miami venue. "We don't want to push anybody about it, because it's a bigger risk for them than anybody else. It's a first show, really," she says. "And I'm hoping we'll be able to do more."

Contact Edward Lebow at his online address: elebow@newtimes.com

"Contemporary Art From Cuba: Irony and Survival on the Utopian Island" opens Sunday, September 27, and continues through Sunday, December 13, at ASU Art Museum in Tempe.

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