Carleton University Art Gallery CUAG

Revolutionary Acts: Fifty Years of Printmaking in Cuba

Curated by Gonzalo Alberto Gutiérrez Hernández

22 November 2009 – 07 February 2010

As an island, Cuba is insular by definition. The 1959 Revolution liberated the island from American economic and political domination, but Castro’s radical systemic changes also isolated it. The fact that artists continued to work independently informs the discussion of “New Cuban Art,” the name given to art of the past fifty years. 

Focusing on printmaking, which has long been an important force in Cuban art, Revolutionary Acts traces developments in the medium since 1959. Timed to coincide with the Revolution’s 50th anniversary, the exhibition features some of Cuba’s leading artists, including Ángel Ramírez, Antonio Eligio (Tonel), Sandra Ramos, Belkis Ayón, Ibrahim Miranda, José Bedia, Flavio Garciandía, Leandro Soto and Octavio Irving.

One of the most important characteristics of a revolution is its internationalism, a feature reflected in the resurgence of the political poster in 1960s Cuba. The posters of Raúl Martínez express the utopian ideals typical of this period, including the depiction of heroes charged with building a better society.

The October Crisis (1962), known in North America as the Cuban Missile Crisis, resulted in Cuba’s complete alienation from the United States and a closer relationship with the Soviet Union. Some of the “gray period” works of the 1970s reflect the increasing dogmatization of culture in Cuba.

Out of the “dark years” of the 1970s came a renaissance in Cuban art. The now mythical exhibition Volumen 1 (1981) introduced the work of critical and innovative young painters and performance artists. The generation of the 1980s was the first to be educated entirely within the revolutionary system, which allowed for the development of individual styles. These artists were influenced by Wifredo Lam, a Cuban of mixed Chinese and African descent who expressed in his work the diversity of Cuban culture, leading to the formation of an Afro-Cuban tradition in Cuban art.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the exodus from Cuba of the 1980s generation, further transformed Cuban art. The important 1990 exhibition Vindicación del Grabado (Vindication of Printmaking), featured the work of artists determined to promote printmaking over painting, the predominant visual language of the previous generation. Today, such contemporary printmakers as Sandra Ramos and Ibrahim Miranda are engaged in a critical inquiry into Cuban culture by means of metaphor and parody. In this their work is typical not only of Cuban art but of postmodernism in general.

With Fidel Castro no longer the president, Cuban society is changing again. Unlike the artists of the 1960s, Cuban artists today give voice to their country’s dystopian dimension, in which isolation and identity form, to paraphrase ethnographer Fernando Ortiz, an ajiaco, or a mixture of sorts. From the perspective of the present, the past fifty years of Cuban art have been a period of evolution as much as revolution, as this exhibition reveals.

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