Cuban artists who dare to tiptoe the tightrope between freedom of expression and critiquing their government risk censorship or even jail time. They have to strike the perfect balance between creativity and political and social commentary, all while gambling that a rigid cultural ministry doesn't crack down on their projects.
So Havana's artistic husband-and-wife team of José Toirac and Meira Marrero deserve every bit of international acclaim they've received for a body of work that subverts Cuba's political history. Their pieces often include imagery of historic events and people found in the national archives that are re-created with a satirical twist.
The couple have not totally escaped censorship by the Cuban government, of course, so some of their most controversial works will be on view at Pan American Art Projects in Wynwood beginning at 6 p.m. to launch the Second Saturday Art Walk season opener. Although they have exhibited across the States at museums, universities, and institutions since 1998, their latest show, "Vanitas," marks their first major solo in a U.S. gallery and will include paintings, sculptures, installations, and videos.
The provocative, conceptually freighted exhibit takes its name from a series of paintings of Cuba's former first ladies. Toirac and Marrero had first proposed the piece when another work, titled 1896-2006, was censored from a planned display at the prestigious Museum of Fine Arts in Havana. That piece would have included a commentary on Fidel and Raúl Castro, and museum honchos said that because both brothers were "eternal figures," the work was prohibited.
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"We conceived of showing portraits of all of the first ladies we previously had in Cuba," Toirac recollects. "We titled that proposal 'Vanitas' because the primary information we used to source the work was first published by Vanidades magazine in 1952, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the republic."
But the museum didn't accept their second proposal either, in part because the Communist government doesn't recognize the concept of a "first lady." Also, although everyone knows Fidel is married, his wife's handlers are under strict orders to keep her in mothballs.