Colonialism to Liberation, Maybe, in 23 Pictures

I would like to emulate a Google map and lead you, street by porcelain street, from the art the Spanish ruling classes brought with them to Cuba to what contemporary Cuban artists are producing today. I’d like to trace influences and learn what Cubans, observing their colonial masters, adopted, borrowed, synthesized, incorporated, discarded, embraced. After all, the Palace of the Captains General, home of all manner of Baroque beauties, is but a short bus ride from the new, entrepreneurial gallery, Merger, where we can see new art that would confound the Captains. Along the way we might even pass a transitional neighborhood where Catalan and Cuban colors are suspiciously similar.

A fool’s errand, but I’d rather show you stuff than apologize. So, off the bus here at the the Plaza de Armas, one of the four major squares in the Old City, just yards from the harbor. An archway ushers us into the courtyard of the block-square palace. It’s a good place for us to consider the passage of time and power: the building served the colonial captains general from the 1790s till 1898. Then the American military governors moved in for three years. The Cuban president took up residence in 1902. The artistic life of the building remains late 18th, early 19th century.

Palace of the Captains' General

Palace of the Captains General

The breezy balcony

The breezy balcony

And in the curtained rooms surrounding this lovely courtyard:

Secret Compartments Everywhere

Secret Compartments Everywhere

Shell Flowers

Shell Flowers

After all, he made his brother Joseph King of Spain

After all, he made his brother Joseph King of Spain

Mercury Bringing Glad Tidings from the Old World

Mercury, who’s forgotten his trousers, brings Glad Tidings from the Old World

Frou Frou with Feathers

Fashionable Frou Frou with Feathers

PDQ Bach's Nose Flute

PDQ Bach’s Nose Flute

A Moment’s Stop in the Neighborhood of Transitional Art: Gaudi Meets Jose Fuster (Whom You’ve Seen Earlier)

Homage to Gaudi?

Homage to Gaudi?

Yes, must be homage to Gaudi

Yes, must be homage to Gaudi

I don’t know if Gaudi has room for such a delicious animal in the Sagrada Familia, but Fuster’s critters are happy to oblige us with a moment’s happiness.

Fierce Horse in Work Boots, With Dogs

Fierce Horse in Work Boots, With Dogs and Flowers

Back on the bus, and we drive on to a private house that has given itself over to a cooperative art gallery. Indeed, the artists here cooperate with each other so entirely that each work is signed with the group’s name: Merger. Individual artists are not identified. The works include paintings and sculptures; some of the pieces are available as either painting or sculpture. The work, these days, is interested in tools which, when seen afresh, when seen a bit twisted or reshaped, take on new life. For instance:

The Pliable Afro

The Pliable Afro

This piece is available as either a painting or a sculpture. Which form do you suppose I’ve pictured here?

Brake Shoe

Brake Shoe

This is a large piece as you can see by sizing it against the person’s legs in the background.

The Tape Measure Snail

The Tape Measure Snail

Thought Storage

Thought Storage

The Cellist, Simplified

The Cellist, Simplified

Out on the Veldt

Out on the Veldt

Given the embargo and other economic struggles, Cuba must be the most DIY society on earth. Of course wild hartebeests will begin to resemble pliers. Point of View, point of view, point of view.

Forever Blowing Bubbles

Forever Blowing Bubbles

Pieces like this one–and there are several–are made from highly polished aluminum. The process begins with a digital image which is then transferred to a half-inch-thick aluminum sheet. The sheet is then carried to Miami where the artist has access to a machine that meticulously jigsaws the sheet to reveal this intricate shape. You’d think the machine was a laser, but a laser would melt and disfigure the aluminum. No, the cutting medium is high-speed jets of water. Who knew?

Then the work is polished to a brilliant, reflective sheen.

Katsushika Hokusai Meets Yasiel Puig (You can Google them)

Katsushika Hokusai Meets Yasiel Puig (You can Google them)

You could hardly imagine two more iconic images of Cuba than the sea and baseball. I’d like to think a ’56 Oldsmobile is hidden by that wave as the water crashes over the seawall along the Malecon. That would be perfect.

2 thoughts on “Colonialism to Liberation, Maybe, in 23 Pictures

    • Me, too. One of my favorites was a large scale globe set atilt in a frame, just like a normal globe. But this one was also a Rubik’s cube, so you could rotate along several planes, altering national boundaries at will. Unhappily, it stood under a window in blinding light and the photo didn’t come out well enough to use.

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