Marta María Pérez Bravo. Recuerdo de nuestro bebé (Erinnerungen an unser Baby). (1987/88). 41,5 x 51,6 cm; Ludwig Forum for international arts, Collection Ludwig. © Marta María Perez Bravo. Photo: Carl Brunn.
Few have tried to understand the so-called Cuban art in the German context, among others in the European context, as something beyond the cliche that still exist about the “Cuba” phenomenon.
For many, Cuba continues being somewhat tropical, the sexual power, the attractive mulatto, with the “sonero”, rum and tobacco appeals, in the end the communist redoubt; in an almost surreal area for a social project called “Cuban Revolution”, which has long ceased to be so.
It is a context full of complexities, both for those who see it from the outside and for those who live it daily. A mess behind that postcard image that anyway is still part of the island´s cultural spectrum; but it is more than all this and there are not many who penetrate the Cuban cultural phenomenon with success. Because it is a network of influences mainly Hispanic, African, Asian, North American, Russian-Soviet, from other European areas and even apparently antagonistic moments –such as the radical twist of the Cuban society after the so-called Revolution, from capitalism to a socialism that in reality it has disguised for decades something that is not such, but it opposes almost all the streams of thought and economic bases of the Western world and a large part of the non-Western world–.
Lázaro Saavedra. No Title (Altar a San José Beuys). 1989 (versión)
That artistic nature, as an antenna of its time, of a balanced criticism with its own aesthetic values about the way of doing, consequence of an aptitude, a talent, a technical knowledge of the tools of visual art, together with an unprejudiced perception regarding the practices of the contemporary art: object, installation, performance, process art, experimental photography, non-traditional media... all this, within a social umbrella as complex as the revolutionary period, that ability to become a critical art with the same system from which it was born and circulates, to a certain point, within the same national Art institution and which is promoted mainly in other countries of America and Europe, is what caught the attention of powerful collectors such as Peter and Irene Ludwig.
Builders of an empire with their main headquarter in Aachen and extensions of it in Germany, Austria, Cuba, China, Hungary, Russia and Switzerland. It has been the achievement of a process since the fifties of the 20th century and results in a collection with tens of thousands of art objects.
Gradually Cuban contemporary art, from the early eighties to the present, has appropriated tools and disciplines from anthropology, popular culture, mystical-religious practices, the ideological and political sphere, sociology and, of course, from various linguistic strategies –irony, sarcasm, catharsis, tautology, tropology, among other resources–.
That vocation of an essentially critical and investigative nature of artists trained within the revolutionary period, in the infrastructure of artistic education developed since the late sixties –with the creation of the National School of Art (ENA) and later, since 1976, in the Higher Institute of Art (ISA), today called University of the Arts, is something outstanding for those who investigate Cuban art, both in spaces and institutions in Europe and the United States. Universities, research centers related to them, museums, biennials or similar platforms, art fairs, auctions, galleries, collectors, have increased this interest in an art that emerged with a spirit of critical review, although it has had its internal transformations.
Glexis Novoa. Aguilera, Ciro, Flavio, Ana Albertina, Adriano, Tomás, Carlos, Mosquera y Tonel, 1990. Ludwig Forum for international arts Aachen, Collection Ludwig. © Glexis Novoa. Photo: Anne Gold
Within the Ludwig collection, Cuban art has its place after the exhibition held in 1990 under the title “Kuba OK”, from April to May of 1990 at the Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf, with the curatorship of Tonel –Antonio Eligio Fernández– and Jürgen Harten. The result was a selection of works by the artists Alejandro Aguilera, Tanya Angulo, Juan Pablo Ballester, José Bedia, Ricardo Rodríguez Brey, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Carlos Rodríguez Cárdenas, Ana Albertina Delgado, Lázaro García, Flavio Garciandía, Ibrahim Miranda, Glexis Novoa, Segundo Planes, Martha María Pérez Bravo, Ciro Quintana, Lázaro Saavedra, Rubén Torres-Llorca and Ileana Villazón.
It was a robust exhibition generally. It showed the strength of a phenomenon that several authors focused on, from the mythical exhibition “Volumen Uno” in Havana in 1981, as the “Boom” or the “Renaissance of the Cuban art”. Several of the artists that participated in that exhibition that modified the Cuban art in the early eighties were part of “Kuba OK”. And the result of the exhibition in Germany was consistent with the idea of an unprejudiced, ironic and critical expression regarding Cuba with its socio-political system, regarding a fatigue of the discourse of power, which was already announced in the eighties. But above all, it exposed a multiple face of Cuban art, with its technical and conceptual heterogeneity. Mainly, the value that the artists of the new Cuban art gave to the field of ideas, concepts, to use art as a method of investigation in all possible directions.
Kunst x Kuba. Contemporary positions since 1989
Ludwig Forum Aachen
These are the bases with which the most serious Cuban art penetrates the German scene, regardless of what was officially exported by the Cuban government, more oriented to a depoliticized, sweetened art, not problematic in terms of ideological, political, even aesthetic issues: a more formalistic art that showed an appearance very distant from the most interesting practices of Cuban art of the moment.
From the 1990s to 2018, various more or less interesting exhibitions took place in Germany and other areas of Europe addressing the phenomenon of “Cuban art” with different levels of success or interest.
For more than twenty years, after “Kuba OK”, contemporary Cuban art has been affected by various internal changes. With a greater projection in the international arena and expressive practices synchronized with the artistic mainstream. At present there is a bigger presence of artists from Cuba in important circuits for the diffusion of visual art. Several Cuban artists live in different countries, produce their works in them, exhibit in recognized spaces, with an interesting insertion in the multicultural range that characterizes contemporary art.
Carlos Rodríguez Cárdenas. Patria o Muerte (Homeland or death). 1989. Oil, canvas and Assemblage. zweiteilig, je 400 x 400 cm; Ludwig Forum for international arts, Collection Ludwig. Photo: Anne Gold
While “Kuba OK” was happening at the Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf, the internal panorama of art in Cuba was increasingly affected by the censorship of the representatives of a government that did not want to change what needed to be changed. With the end of the eighties, the institutional system of art in Cuba entered into a crisis of relations with artists and their expressions, insofar as the institutions are reproducers of the ideological system that sustains power. The increasingly clear divorce between Cuban artistic practice and political power led to an important diaspora of artists, intellectuals, professionals from different fields. But mainly from the visual artistic field.
An interesting fact is that of the eighteen artists who participated in the important exhibition “Kuba OK” and its curator from the Cuban side, sixteen of these live in European and American countries since many years ago –besides Tonel, who lives in Canada–. And although some of them have access to Cuba, and a few of them have exhibited in institutional spaces in the country during these recent years, their artistic development has been continued –or modified over time– in other contexts, due to the difficulties for creation and dialogue with the Cuban system in relation to the freedom of artistic practice, the positioning in spaces of interest at various levels and the creative possibilities existing at the end of the eighties and early nineties.
Marta María Pérez Bravo. Recuerdo de nuestro bebé (Memories of our Baby). (1987/88). 41,5 x 51,6 cm; Ludwig Forum for international arts, CollectionLudwig. © Marta María Perez Bravo. Photo: Carl Brunn.
On one hand, this situation indicated the hypertrophy of specialized education in Cuba, which at some point “reached the top” behind which there was nothing else and other international perspectives offered more possibilities for professional development. On the other, the battle with the wall of political inflexibility, which did nothing but hide what is now evident: art, in particular the visual one, due to its questioning and potentially transformative nature, is uncomfortable for those who do not want the best in society and does not intend for it to prosper and develop freely.
This is what is behind the phenomenon of the so-called contemporary Cuban art of the late eighties that begins to be recognized in Germany and will open the path for several artists who are based in the country, or nearby, and continue exhibiting their artistic productions within the art circuit in Europe.
“Kuba OK” opens a way to future exhibitions and proposals by artists that we will continue analyzing in coming texts and that we must not ignore after the artistic trend that an
Montecassino, May 2021.
Visual Material: proposed by Frency, 2021