Art in Cuba

Just when an artist can't find a tube of paint or a strip of canvas, the international art world has come knocking on Havana's door -- with money in hand

There is but one official art-supply store in Havana, the only place to buy paint and canvas legally. But to purchase materials there, artists must produce a contractual letter stating that he or she will be participating in an exhibition, usually in a foreign country. An invitation to participate in the Biennial met this rigid requirement, but the results were not always fruitful. For example, in order to create his piece for the show, Estevez needed glue, turpentine, and black paint. "I only got glue," he shrugged. "It's really a challenge. It's an adventure that has nothing to do with art. But we use what we can find because we need to communicate."

In the dining room, filled with worn but still elegant Castilian-style furniture, Estevez showed the slides of his work using an archaic Soviet projector. The family's ration book, carefully covered with wrapping paper, sat on a nearby sideboard. "Take a look," he urged. "Someday that will be a collector's item." One roll of bread per day per person. Twenty jars of baby food per month for Estevez's year-old son. No soap, detergent, or toothpaste since last year.

Like the allotments of cigarettes and rum that are limited, so too has been the full realization of Estevez's projects. For the most part they remain simply as drawings. The statue in the doorway was an exception, but it took him two years to complete. With materials so difficult to find he didn't want to make any mistakes.

Estevez resignedly pointed out that in a city that provided unlimited access to supplies A cities like Paris or Madrid or Miami A an artist's development could take place twice as fast as in Havana. But that doesn't necessarily mean his goal is to leave Cuba. "It's a very difficult and painful decision," he mused. "I think about having a house with smooth walls. But I don't know, for me staying here is like defending your spirit.

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