Art exhibition fuels US-Cuba thaw

Hundreds of Cubans packed into Havana's Museo De Bellas Artes for the launch of the first major US contemporary art exhibition to be shown here for almost a quarter of a century.

It's part of the island's biennial art festival, which every two years features hundreds of artists from Cuba and around the world. Until now it has been difficult for Americans to attend.

The exhibition is called Chelsea visits Havana and features about 30 artists from more than two dozen galleries in New York's arty Chelsea neighbourhood.

The show's American curator is gallery owner Alberto Magnan, whose parents left Cuba when he was five years old.

"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," he said.

Alberto Magnan first approached the Cuban authorities three years ago with the idea of bringing a cross-section of contemporary American art to Havana.

But he had to wait for new presidents in both countries for the idea to come to fruition.

'Cultural lighthouse'

The curator of contemporary art at Havana's Fine Arts Museum, which is hosting the exhibition, Aberlado Mana, describes the show as "a surprise and a miracle".

"This is the first exhibition we made after Obama rose to power," he says. "This is a kind of lighthouse of the next process of the culture and the politics between Cuba and the United States."

One of the works attracting attention is what appears to be an abstract red wooden cut-out by New York artist Padraig Tarrant.

It is called Castrobama and on closer inspection it reveals the silhouettes of Fidel Castro and Barack Obama eyeing each other, face to face. A symbol perhaps of what many believe could mark the start of an easing of relations.