Bedia

As one of the most acclaimed Cuban artists of his generation, Jose Bedia is already in the spotlight. But the illumination he's looking for is something slightly different.

Recalling his interaction with an American university, Bedia is a little more hesitant. "It was good because people were able to get to know one another," he recalls. "There was communication on a cultural level. There was some talk about politics, but I tried to avoid it. The problem was that the people who arranged this were from the left, and they saw us as Cubans living within the Cuban system in a very naive way, as if we were the revolutionaries and we were resisting imperialism and all that. But things aren't like that. They're just not black and white. If you live in Cuba, it's your country and you're in agreement with some things and not with others.

"I think art education is better in Cuba," he adds. "At Old Westbury they had good professors and all the materials, but the students weren't up to the task. We were always saying if we had all of those resources, what great artists we would have been."

As a youngster Bedia displayed an interest in drawing. A neighbor suggested that his mother enroll him in art school, which she did. His training started at age twelve, first at the San Alejandro school and then at the Instituto Superior de Arte, both in Havana. While continuing to develop his own work and exhibiting with his colleagues, he began teaching, as artists have done since the revolution. After instructing delinquent children in a cultural center, he became a professor at the Instituto Superior in 1987.

He soon found that things had changed since he had been a student there; the younger artists were expanding the freedoms gained by his generation, creating works that incorporated derogatory images of Castro and Che Guevara, and engaging in critical street performances. "The students began doing things that directly addressed the government," he recalls. "What they brought in was an act that was totally political and subversive. I thought about it and decided that there were two things I could do: denounce them and fail their work, or leave the school. I wasn't going to denounce them because they were my friends. I wasn't going to fail their work because it wasn't bad. This was something the government had to stop because the government was the cause of it. But I was the one who was going to have the problems because they would blame the teachers for the students' behavior. So I decided to leave. And that's one reason why I left the country. I just realized it was their fight as a generation, not mine.

"In a way an artist is always a subversive force no matter where he is. My generation changed a lot of points of view in Cuban art that were very traditional, very official, very static. My group -- and we were hundreds of artists -- ended that. But the ones who came after me did away with other things that we didn't touch. We were interested in the tie with the popular and religious traditions, sort of an anthropological study of Cuban society. The group that came after me, whom we taught as professors, were launching a political attack A and with reason. But that was their battle. Each one breaks his own barriers, and that's the way that it's been in Cuba.

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