This boom has been brewing for some time. It has been stepped up with the easing of restrictions on US travel to Cuba as collectors flock to the island. But the abundance of artists on the island can be explained above all by the central role given to the humanistic values of culture since the fundamental economic and social transformation began in 1959. As Cuban curator Chrislie Perez has said: "Art is a human right in Cuba". This made possible a world class cross-discipline art education system, free to anyone with talent, beginning in secondary school and continuing to post-graduate level. This formal system is accompanied by local community art centres enabling everyone to join in some cultural activity, plus many national institutions which have helped shape attitudes to culture and maintain the ever changing debate. The path of encouraging people to be artists who can create whatever they want as long as they do it well, has not been an easy one, but it has paid off.
The PRESENTE! exhibition has celebrated this stupendous artistic achievement. It announces that Cuban art has arrived. It is unique for two reasons. First, it has been the biggest show in the UK for years with over 30 Cuban artists; and secondly, it has brought together different generations, where artists in their twenties are exhibiting alongside others who have been creating art for six decades. Despite the diversity in themes, genres, styles and artistic languages, the common thread is to reflect concerns within current Cuban society while acknowledging international art scene ideas.
Amongst the younger generation figurative painting and pop art loom large – large formats, a bright palate, and references from fashion, the street, domestic spaces and advertising icons, such as Harold Lopez Muñoz. In the work of Adislen Reyes, Lisandra Garcia and Osy Milián – and numerous women are in the forefront of newly emerging talent – the image of the female body is instrumental in interrogating issues relating to gender and young womanhood, but with a quirky, personal stamp – they are not didactic. In his 40s, Reynerio Tamayo's work shines with his huge range of references and is always up for a laugh, with an incisive punch. Satirical humour is his bridge for opening up a debate, not just about Cuba's relationship with the US but also about the artist's relationship with the art world and the role of the artist.
Social concerns permeate works of older artists. René Peña brilliantly uses photography to construct images of the black male body alongside a variety of heavily coded objects which challenge the stereotypical gaze. Eduardo Roca, known as Choco, uses collography to make visible the internal world of his Afro-Cuban characters, referencing elements of santeria, the syncretic religion born in Cuba with its roots in West Africa, which permeates all of Cuban culture, regardless of religious belief. Kcho's drawings of people and parts of boats bring to mind the current crisis of migration of people on a global scale. As islanders, it is not surprising that the sea often features as a central element. Luís Camejo skilfully captures the meeting point as the mighty waves of the sea encroach on the city in his cinematic meditations in oils and watercolour on the Malecón.
Niels Reyes is more concerned with the fragile psychology of the individual and invites us to consider the reality beneath the surface of his highly textured human faces. One of the youngest artists in the show, Richard Somonte, paints landscapes, almost pastiches, to join an art historical dialogue paradoxically critiquing current ‘anti-art' trends. Pedro de Oráa, the oldest artist in the show and the only living member of an influential group of ten geometric abstract artists in the 1950s, today works from initial drawings which he then manipulates digitally.
Extract from the catalogue for ¡Presente! Contemporary Art from Cuba exhibition copyright Music Fund for Cuba
60 pages, full colour with beautiful images of all the works plus biographies and other information.
How to see the art The show closes at GX Gallery in south London on Saturday 29 October 2016 (open 9.30am-6pm)but you can see a smaller selection of the works on show at Searcy's Club, St Mary's Axe (The Gherkin) in central London from 7 November to 22 December. Visiting there is strictly by appointment only via the GX Gallery. Call 020 7703 8396 or email@example.com .
How to buy the art: Contact the GX Gallery www.gxgallery.com T: 020 7703 8396
More info about the whole project at www.presentecubanart.org Facebook page CubanArtPresente Twitter @CubaArtPresente Instagram CubanArtPresente
Donate to the fund for art materials for young people in CubaWhile the US blockade against Cuba persists, arts education continues to suffer from lack of materials and opportunities for exchange. Surplus from the sale of artworks in this exhibition will go towards art materials for Cuba, but you can also donate directly for these materials to a special fund via the Music Fund for Cuba UK charity.
Donate online at www.presentecubanart.org/support
Find out more about the Music Fund for Cuba charity at www.musicfundforcuba.org.uk