Art to Burn

Will the arrival of Cuban artist Manuel Mendive provoke another fiery response from anti-Castro forces?

For Cernuda the memory of the flames consuming Mendive's creative expression is a reminder of Nazi Germany's reign of terror. "Burning a painting is like burning a book," Cernuda says.

In October 1996 Mendive and company were scheduled to perform at the Kennedy Center. A week before their arrival, Kennedy Center officials canceled the performance, alleging the Cubans had not submitted their visa applications on time. A few days later Mendive was informed by both Cubans and Americans in Havana that the cancellation was prompted by politics. President Clinton and others feared losing the support of Miami's Cubans.

After Mendive's Kennedy Center performances later this month and in May, he plans to travel around the United States. Yet the artist says he prefers the tranquility of his sixteenth-century farmhouse in El Cotorro to U.S. chaos. The birds in his paintings are modeled after those that fly around his home. Their plumage provides colors that inspire him. So do the yellow canaries and his yard full of lemon, orange, and avocado trees. "Politics confuses me, justice is beautiful," he says. "That's why I'd rather paint."

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