Friday, July 27, 2012

Artists from the Oriente @ Nuance Galleries

Map of the Oriente province of Cuba
Cuba is short and wide. The Easternmost province, Oriente, has played a major part in Cuban (and US) history in spite or because of its distance from the dominant culture of La Habana. This geographical distance has encouraged the area to develop its own character and culture. Oriente used to be a province on its own, until 1976 when it was broken up into five smaller ones. Jose Marti died there. Fidel and Raul Castro were born there. The US base called Gitmo and/or Guantanamo and its notorious prison are there. Oriente was and is primarily an agricultural area producing sugar and coffee. Today it is becoming more popular with tourists, but being 650 miles from Havana it remains somewhat isolated.

Reynaldo Pagan Avila, "Somos Inocentes"

The works in this show come from the Eastern Cuba Cultural Exchange, a non-profit founded by Clyde Hensley, a Jensen Beach resident whose life has included working on a tanker ship in Japan, treasure diving with Mel Fisher and Charter Boat fleet owner in the Virgin Islands. In 1995, he visited the Oriente area as part of a cultural exchange and aid mission. He met artists in the region,visited the Jose Joaquin Tejada Escuela de Artes Plasticas located in Santiago, and was impressed with the quality of the work, and that the artists were so driven that they were working on cardboard and sugar cane sacks instead of canvas. Other visits followed, supplies were secured, ties strengthened and the Easter Cuba Cultural Exchange began bringing in work and some artists into the US.

In the work above left, Reynaldo Pagan Avila depicts children behind bars or (bird?) caged. The top figure has a mischievious smile, and toys. The lower figure wears a child's newspaper hat, seems to be sitting on the toilet, has a drawing on the floor and laundry hanging. The artist grew up in one of the nicer neighborhoods in the area, but later moved to an economically poor one, whose people, situation and culture he embraced. He mentions David as an influence. In the work one can see postmodern irony, and strong traces of surrealism.

"Artists from the Oriente" is a touring exhibition on a four-year, eighteen city journey. I saw it at the new Nuance Gallery in St. Pete at 2924 Central Ave in St. Pete. It is important to note that although the artists live far from the cultural hub of Havana, they are far from being culturally isolated. Informed through their educational institutions, many of these artists are not naifs or self educated. One is a museum director, others are professors and/or graduates from educational institutions.

Alfredo Rodriguez, "En el Reino de Dios, Todo es Posible"

Alfredo Cecilio Rodriguez Cedeno is a mostly self-taught artist who spent his childhood on a farm, close to the landscapes he now paints. It's hard to recognize it in this context, but he was influenced by Dutch landscape artists, in his colors by the Barbizon School, and by a few Cuban artists. The painting on left, whose title translates to "In The Kingdom of God All is Possible", we see a self-portrait of the artist at a large table on which a miniature landscape sits. A stream forms a waterfall at the edge of the table, and there's a tub to catch the flow. The flooring is dirt, and also a landscape, with visible tire tracks.A large book lies towards the lower right. The artist explains that he used to sit with art books and his paints and canvases and work in a solitary fashion. The figure's right arm rests on another table where brushes dry in a jar, other books reside, and a painting of Jesus hangs on the wall. Rodriguez spends time sketching plein air, and he seeks out specific old trees to incorporate into his paintings. This work is a parable on the natural paradise of his youth, a commentary on religion, Nature as the sacred, and man's inextricable connections to both.

This exhibit is packed with works of this caliber, rich with Cuban humor, social, religious, political, cultural and ecological narratives, laced with irony, love of the land, mysticism expressionism and much more. The works are not about a particular theme, school or genre, but unified by culture and geography.

Congratulations to the artists, Nuance Galleries, the Hensleys and their Cultural Exchange for a good show.

--- Luis

At Union Marti-Maceo in Ybor City  1226 E.Seventh Ave. (Tampa). on July 28th, 7-11 PM for a fundraiser ($25 admission).Afterwards, it travels to Nuance in Tampa, 804 S. Dale Mabry Hwy. Tampa, on August 2nd, from 6-9 PM.  Free admission.

Nuance Galleries, 804 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa, (813) 875-0511.  Gallery Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

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