An Empire State of Mind

/ 19 July, 2014

Cuban America: An Empire State of Mind, an exhibition with an extensive figure of thirty-five artists of Cuban descent, whose relationship with the Island covers a diverse level of possibilities –running from living and working in it to knowing it only through family references – was presented by the Lehman College Art Gallery, New York. In spite of this referential link with Cuba, the exhibition, inaugurated last February 4th, is far from being considered a traditional sample of Cuban art, since it includes numerous nuances in the speech on tensions and relations between Cuba and the United States, frequently reduced to differences of a political nature. Since indispensable names in contemporary Cuban art – among them Carlos Garaicoa, Yoan Capote and Tania Bruguera – coincide with those of artists like Teresita Fernandez, Katarina Wong and Andres Serrano, whose success in the international arena has no links with any type of immediate connection with the Island, the selection outlines one of its fundamental theses: the significance of the Diaspora in the redefinition of Cuban culture over and above any type of geographic determinism.

The delicious curatorial texture, designed by Yuneikys Villalonga and Susan Hoeltzel, outstands because of its voluntarily inclusive intention, expanding the limits of the established notions on “Cuban art” and “identity,” and thus marking the continuous movement of categories, whose reach and nature should be rethought in the context of contemporary society. These lines of thought, deriving first of all from the selection of artists trained in the Island and abroad – and therefore with diverse degrees of relationship with Cuba and its particular dilemmas – are held and made complex thanks to the thematic orientation of the exhibition.

Villalonga and Hoeltzel maintain a distance from any preconceived formulation for an exhibition of Cuban art; instead, they look at the United States, its natural and urban landscape, culture, society and conflicts of various types. (…)

One of the most interesting results in the convergence of these thirty-five artists is perhaps the recurrence on some analyses and concerns on American society, channeled through topics like individual identity, memory, power, the dynamics of consumption society, landscape, architecture and its symbolic implications, among others. In the Lehman College Art Gallery, America[1] is represented – inquired, explored – through a Cuban lens far from being geographically circumscribed to the insular space to reach a more international bias and approach conflicts that, because of their human nature, reach universal dimension. (…)

A complementary video program organized by guest curator Mayken Barreto following the same premises established by Villalonga and Hoeltzel. The eight artists chosen by Barreto are joined by their interest in video as a recurrent means in their careers, although with different modalities (…).

Cuban America: An Empire State of Mind begins with a high note in the program of celebrations for the 30th anniversary of the Lehman College Art Gallery. Among so many possible options, it is a privilege that these presentations began encouraging a new look towards Cuban art and the way artists of Cuban descent, established anywhere in the world, think about their own history and think of America.

[1] “America” with the meaning Americans use when referring to the United States.

Anelys Álvarez Muñoz

Anelys Álvarez Muñoz

Cursó estudios en la Universidad de La Habana, donde obtuvo los diplomas de licenciatura y maestría en Historia del Arte. Ha cursado estudios de postgrado en la Universidad Internacional de La Florida. Fue profesora de la Universidad de La Habana del 2005 al 2010. Vive en La Florida donde se desempeña como consultante para el Frost Art Museum y como curadora asociada para colecciones privadas y corporativas. Sus intereses investigativos se orientan al estudio del arte y la cultura cubanos.

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