Less than three years ago, the Cuban artistic husband-and-wife team of José Toirac and Meira Marrero marked their first solo exhibition in a U.S. gallery. The event took place at Pan American Art Projects during a time when the risk of censorship back home was still very real.
Their controversial show opened in Wynwood in September 2013 to kick off the Second Saturday Art Walk season. It featured works that Cuban authorities had torpedoed from a planned display at the prestigious Museum of Fine Arts in Havana.
Until recently, artists living in la Habana Vieja had to tiptoe on a tightrope when depicting the heroes of La Revolución or risk a crackdown by the island’s rigid cultural ministry. Following the recent thaw between the U.S. and Cuba, visiting Americans can now pop into an artist’s studio and see the island’s Cold War-era dirty laundry aired without political consequence. Both the notorious Tania Bruguera arrest and El Sexto’s jail stint for naming a pair of live pigs “Fidel” and “Raul” seem like ancient headlines now.
Beginning this Memorial Day weekend, art lovers will be able to sign up for Pan American Art Projects’ Latin American and Caribbean Studies (LAACS) program for a series of fully immersive and private weeklong tours of Cuba’s thriving arts community.
“We offer exclusive intimate visits to the studios of some of Cuba’s best-known artists, ones that we have been working with for the past 20 years in our gallery and others,” says Janda Wetherington, Pan Am’s director, who began organizing the trips three years ago.
You’ll be able to visit Abel Barroso, Roberto Diago, Kcho, Jose Manuel Fors, Mabel Poblet, and José Toirac, along with other talent, during the artsy excursions.
At Toriac’s place, for example, you’ll discover Fidel Castro rendered as the Marlboro Man and peddling everything from men’s cologne to vodka and expensive cameras. Don’t forget to ask Toirac to show you one of his soiled bedsheets from his series Sabana Santa, in which he has outlined El Che’s cadaver with wine à la the Shroud of Turin.
Wetherington says LAACS' current private museum tours, cultural spaces, and collections are usually for small groups. Guests range from the serious collector to novice art aficionados interested in discovering the island’s timeless mystique before it radically changes.
The tours also explore the local art schools, experimental art spaces, and some of the capital’s famous private restaurants, including el paladar San Cristobal, which has served the likes of Mick Jagger, Beyoncé and Jay Z, and President Obama and his family during the president's recent trip to Cuba.
Participation in PAAP's LAACS start from $1,850 per person for a five-day/four-night stay in Havana to $5,200 for a seven-day/six-night jaunt that also offers stops in Trinidad and Cienfuegos. Tickets include roundtrip airfare from Miami to Havana, a Cuban visa, five-star hotels, airport transfers, and all transportation while on the island. Lunches and dinners at top eateries and artist studios and Cuban emergency health insurance round out the package.
Wetherington mentions that those wishing to buy artworks to commemorate their visit are encouraged. “Smaller works by living artists can be hand-carried back home,” she says. “We take care of all permitting and exporting services for the works. Larger acquisitions are shipped by us, again taking care of all of the requirements for exportation.”
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The artistic director says the LAACS Millennials' Tour — which costs less than $2,000 — is among the company’s most popular.
“It appeals to a younger crowd and still offers the same guided visits to the galleries and museums," says Fernanda Torcida, PAAP’s gallery manager. “But it also provides more freedom for those open to discovering ‘la habana inventada’ and off-the-beaten-path activities and events you’ll only see here after nightfall. ”
Pan American Art Projects' Latin American and Caribbean Studies Project
For tour prices and schedules, call 305-751-2550 or visit laacstravel.com.