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Here Come the Cubans

Art can redeem the world," writes Schiller in his Aesthetic Education of Man. I take his motto to mediate art and politics, as a means to show, not necessarily what is true or false, right or wrong, but other important shades in between. Art is powerful because it deals with...
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Art can redeem the world," writes Schiller in his Aesthetic Education of Man. I take his motto to mediate art and politics, as a means to show, not necessarily what is true or false, right or wrong, but other important shades in between. Art is powerful because it deals with reality from outside it, enriching it. You'd have to agree with the German Romantic after visiting the show Elizabeth Cerejido curated, "The Parallax Effect," at the Cultural Spanish Center in Coral Gables, which features Cuban artists from the island and from the U.S.

New Times: What do you make of the exploration of nostalgia in your exhibition?

Cerejido: Nostalgia is always present in the work of Cuban artists. In some, it is an overt theme, while in others it is a strong underlying presence. If you were to divide the Cuba story in two, those living there and those outside, I suppose that the element of nostalgia becomes an inevitable aspect of one's life. It is intrinsic to the story, a longing for those who leave, suffer, and for those who are left behind.

In Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons's work we see this Afro-Cuban doubling of mother/daughter identity. What about her work?

I've always been attracted to her work because, among other things, it is unabashedly personal. You get a real sense of her posing questions to herself about her identity and struggling with the answers. That coupled with a lyricism and a very severe aesthetic.

In Rogelio Lopez Marin (Gory)'s work you see a wet corner, a gated façade. His eyes seek the banal, the nontranscendent in an overpopulated world. Gory and Luis Mallo have this state-of-the-art look, sort of techno-futuristic. On the other hand, Cubans from the island explore this nostalgic, historic quality.

The comparison emerges from the grouping of these artists. I allowed for these connections and similarities to emerge on their own. I see an element of detachment and alienation in the works of Mallo and Gory, which is not present in the work of the artists living in Cuba. However, nostalgia is present in both groups. Gory's work is imbued with a lyricism and a mysterious quality not present in Mallo's austere, formalist compositions.

Carlos Alom's Evidence is a cryptic work with political layers. But I feel his message gets entangled, as if the whole thing didn't take off -- this whole issue of the female, of violence, sacrifice, and waste. Is this informed by some self-censorship?

That reading of the work is always risky. It's so easy to come to conclusions because of what we bring to the work. A Cuban-American audience will have a conscious or unconscious tendency to make that reference. What makes the work interesting is that he addresses political and social issues in a very lyrical and personal way. This is a trait that characterizes Cuban artists working today that differentiates them from the generations that preceded them, who in turn ended up addressing political concerns in a much more confrontational way. It's a return to aesthetics and personal themes.

I have come up with the term "photopolitics" to touch some of the topics in your show -- photography being such a twentieth-century medium imbued with a reportorial, objective, but also dramatic quality. Is the medium linked to the social overtones of the exhibition?

The show's political overtones lay more in the reasons why the show was conceived than in the work itself. In other words, the reasons why I felt it important to get involved in this project are both political and personal. The work and artists came as a result of this idea. But the work itself does not address those specific issues. In a larger, more historical sense, politics have played a major role in the history of photography in Cuba. Think of the iconic image of El Ché and how it has come to signify and symbolize the revolution. Though photography has been burdened with the notion of capturing the truth we know that is not the case.

After seeing Cesar Beltrán's "Cuba en Chino" ("Cuba in Chinese"), an exhibit of a few works at Maxoly Gallery, I left convinced that Beltrán is one of the most subversive Cuban artists working outside the island today. His pictorial language is straightforward and overloaded with ideological decibels. He knows how to mix the glorious and the infamous. His conceptual vocabulary is so tight and sparse that it hurts.

Beltrán's previous show at Maxoly had its share of controversy, with exile pickets in front of the gallery, veiled threats on the radio, and bullets off the gallery's glass windows. This time, a year later, Beltrán places side by side Theodore Roosevelt, Fulgencio Batista, and José Martí, with the words "When," "How," and "What," respectively.

"Cuba in Chinese" is shorthand for giving up definitions altogether. Examine closely this roster of heroes: There's Martí, arguably the most important figure in Cuban independence and the most abused symbol in Cuban history. Theodore Roosevelt is a problematic character because he was secretary of the navy during the Spanish-American War of 1898, which for Cubans meant winning independence from the Spanish; in Roosevelt's 1907 letter on Cuba to President Taft, there is a vague hint of the possibility of turning the island into a protectorate -- though he denies involvement.

Batista is the underdog of Cuban post-independence. A Chinese-looking mulatto who managed to lead a successful uprising against Gerardo Machado, Batista became in the late 1930s the favored U.S. strongman. He became president in 1940, supported by a coalition of political parties including the communists, defeating Ramon Grau San Martín. His was the first presidential election under a new constitution. In 1944 Grau San Martín was elected president; Batista relinquished control and left for Florida, but eight years later he led a coup against Carlos Prío Socorras. This was a huge betrayal of the 1940 constitution.

Because Castro's revolution is a consequence of Batista's actions, some have used the latter's mixed race, communist leanings, civic works, and material prosperity during his dictatorial reign in the 1950s as a contrast to Castro's bourgeois origin and egocentric totalitarian style for more than four decades. Castro's grip has surpassed literally and figuratively anything Batista ever dreamt of. Yet justifying Batista because of Castro's example seems highly questionable to many Cubans. All this complexity is Beltrán's bread and butter.

Finally, check out Yovani Bauta's "Backbone" at Dot Fiftyone, along the Miami Avenue strip. Bauta's Expressionist canvases are political, iconic, and direct. These colorful series of the human back are built with delicate layers of paint and drip, through which one perceives the painter's inner conflict. More than homoerotic, Bauta's works are symbolic of human resilience -- as if they were dignified walls withstanding the hardships of time, yet also bringing forth hope and redemption.

Objex Artspace: "Wall of Fame" will show off a wall of works from fifteen Miami natives -- emerging artists all -- who have labored under the theme of "street" and "urban" art; participants include Edec, Sar, Kvee, Mek, Freek, Elex, Shie, Sae, Rage, Dash, Marle, View2, Jes, Gwiz, and Smash. Music by DJ Atomik Rage. Opening on Thursday, June 19, at 7:00 p.m. at the relatively new alternative spot Objex Artspace, 500 NW 24th St.; 305-576-6551.

Miami Art Museum: The downtown museum kicks off the summer with "American Tableaux," an expansive contemporary art show plucked from one of the nation's best contemporary art museums, the Walker Art Center of Minneapolis. Loosely the art represents the narrative tradition in twentieth-century art, featuring artists such as Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Elizabeth Peyton, Edward Ruscha, Jasper Johns, and Kara Walker; locally curated by Cheryl Hartup. Opening on Thursday, June 19, at 5:00 p.m. at the Miami Art Museum, 101 W. Flagler St.; 305-375-3000.

Historical Museum of Southern Florida: Next door to MAM a show of local photojournalism makes up "Assignment Miami: News Photographers." Miami's history is visually told through more than 250 photographs, including images from the 1926 hurricane, the Liberty City riots, the Mariel boatlift, and of course the Elian Gonzalez affair. Opening on Thursday, June 19, at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, 101 W. Flagler St.; 305-375-1492.

Serious Studios: Another addition to the emerging-artist or young-artist or group-artist space, Serious is presenting "Act Seven of Urgency Emerging Emergency," a monthly exhibit since December. This time the Emergency includes Karyn Scordo and Carla Fache. Opening at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 21, at Serious Studios, One NE 40th St.; 305-573-7500.

Bass Museum of Art: Not opening but extending the run of works by Federico Uribe. Incorporating materials such as rakes and nails, Uribe's pieces include the sculpture series Garden of Gardening Tools and a series of "portraits" (made from tape, wire, and more nails) called Everybody Gets Screwed. Extended through July at the Bass Museum of Art, 2121 Park Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7530.

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