Cuba’s first major exhibition of U.S. contemporary art in almost a quarter of a century is attracting hundreds of visitors to the show.
Chelsea Visits Havana, which opened on Saturday, was three years in the making and features 30 artists from New York’s arty Chelsea neighbourhood.
“I would love for this show to be a beginning step towards both countries getting a little closer together and starting a dialogue and I think art is a great way to do it,“said the show’s American curator, Alberto Magnan, whose parents left Cuba when he was five.
Magnan said he approached Cuban authorities three years ago to have the show at the island’s bi-annual art festival, which showcases hundreds of artists from Cuba and around the world.
During the Clinton years, American museums and art dealers made regular forays into Cuba, buying pieces and helping artists in Cuba to exhibit in the U.S.
But with the George W. Bush administration, trade and travel rules were tightened.
Magnan said a change in leadership in both countries opened the doors with the advent of Barack Obama’s election and Raul Castro taking over the reins after his brother Fidel became too ill to rule.
“This is a kind of lighthouse of the next process of the culture and the politics between Cuba and the United States,” Aberlado Mana, the contemporary art curator at Havana’s Fine Arts Museum, told BBC News.
The museum is hosting Chelsea Visits Havana.
A worker paints a wall next to a sculpture by New York artist Padraig Tarrant called Castrobama at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana. (Javier Galeano/Associated Press)
The exhibit is meant to be non-political.
One work features an abstract redwood cut-out by Padraig Tarrant. Called Castrobama, it requires the viewer to look closely to discover the silhouettes of Fidel Castro and Barack Obama staring at each other face to face.
Another, by Long-Bin Chen, is a sculpture of the four U.S. presidents on Mount Rushmore plus Obama made of New York City Yellow Pages.
American artists visiting the festival say they have been astounded by the quality of Cuban art.
“[The] art I’ve seen is phenomenal. Can you imagine that, without having a commercial drive behind work, what amazing things you can come up?” said installation artist Jade Townsend.
There is now some discussion about bringing a similar exhibit of Cuban art to the United States.