Two Steps Forward: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Collection of Terri and Steven Certilman

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Two Steps Forward

Contemporary Cuban Art from the Collection of Terri and Steven Certilman

April 29 - June 4, 2016

Westport Arts Center 51 Riverside Avenue Westport, CT 06880 203.222.7070

Foreword In Cuba, perhaps more than in most places, artistic themes reflect the times: political, economic, social. And right now, Cubans live in interesting times. Just five weeks ago, the first visit of an American president to Cuban soil in eighty-eight years was warmly received and Los Rollings performed the country’s first ever open air rock and roll concert at the Ciudad Deportiva de la Habana. The excitement and anticipation of the Cuban people is palpable! Here in the United States, the process of traveling to Cuba has been simplified and made less restrictive. Even more importantly, the stage has been set for the easing, if not lifting, of American economic restrictions that impose hardship and struggle on no one more than the average Cuban, striving to stay afloat in the cash-starved island nation.

Constructing the stage for the Rolling Stones. Photo by Eduardo Guerra


Franklin Álvarez’s amusing Shortcut II and Abel Barroso’s aspirational Green Card treat the all-too-common emigration of family and friends, as does Jacqueline Brito’s bluesy The Fleet, which laments “if only these old cars could float!” Perhaps that painful parting of ways will become more infrequent with fully normalized relations between our two countries. Roberto Fabelo’s iconic The Mermaid speaks to an island asleep. Is she soon to wake? Aliosky Garcia’s Catapult addresses the secret fantasy of many. Someday soon, this may be cast aside for the joy of working to remake one’s own world. Ibrahim Miranda’s Black Tears draws on the title of a classic Cuban poem as a metaphor for Cuba’s struggles. Will these become tears of joy? Angel Ramírez’s piece, Case Pending, observes that the jury has not yet decided how it will view the life’s work of its subject. Or will there be a verdict at all? Diego Torres’s Emplazado and Terminus, photorealistic depictions of small boats seemingly in the middle of nowhere, begs the question: who will be using these, and where do they plan to go? Might the answer soon be, “These are the boats of fishermen, of course!?” Finally, Enrique Wong’s The Cell sardonically enables the viewer to envision himself as by allusion some Cubans view themselves. As the title of William Pérez’s piece says – The Man is the Measure of His Dreams. Perhaps we shall soon see more of how those dreams play out. Steven A. Certilman April 29, 2016


History In The Making The Westport Arts Center is pleased to present an exhibition featuring works by 31 emerging and established Cuban artists. Two Steps Forward showcases a significant collection of contemporary Cuban art, which Terri and Steven Certilman have acquired over more than fifteen years. The Certilmans source pieces from the artists directly during their frequent travels to Cuba and have dedicated themselves to promoting the country’s artistic talent. The works in the show explore Cuban identity and its diverse cultural heritage as well as the political and economic climate within the context of its historic isolation. Double entendre, humor, and wit serve to unlock subtle messages about the Cuban existence. The art expresses the soul and the fortitude of the Cuban people, and how they meet and overcome the circumstances imposed upon their lives. In recent years, a new generation of expressive postrevolutionary Cuban artists has explored and conveyed various aspects of their culture through diverse media. Despite political constraints, they communicate what it means to be Cuban on various levels. The common motifs since the 1980s have been boats and rafts – obvious references to a desired, yet thwarted exodus. Kcho’s images of precariously stacked rafts and Diego Torres’s paintings of abandoned boats allude to the risks involved in escaping the island. Franklin Álvarez and Enrique Wong express the overwhelming feeling of entrapment and the struggle to survive. The theme of being isolated also recurs in works by Ibrahim Miranda, Roberto Fabelo, and Ramon Ramirez. Cuba is represented as a sleeping lizard-like creature in Miranda’s multidimensional maps and as a slumbering mermaid detached from reality in Fabelo’s monumental and iconic Mermaid’s Dream.


More recently themes have shifted, as the perspectives of more artists have been broadened by the opportunity to visit other countries. Many of the contemporary artists are shaped by an environment of change – a sense of history in the making – and are focusing on shifting identities, national consciousness, and existence within the current structure. These young artists emerging on the art scene and making their mark include Joniel León, Harold Lopez, William Pérez, and Mabel Poblet. While León and Lopez, through their highly crafted drawings and paintings, express the hopes and desires of young Cubans to expand their horizons, Pérez and Poblet make statements about their Cuban identity by employing a variety of materials in innovative ways. The prevalence of mixed media works incorporating found objects, due in part to the shortage of and limited access to traditional art materials, attests to the innovative and resourceful nature of these contemporary artists. Abel Barroso’s wooden sculptures and intricately constructed works made of pencil shavings, such as Green Card, are witty commentaries on the economic and political situation. Similarly, in her paintings, Jacqueline Brito utilizes found objects, such as glass shards and coins, to make powerful statements about emigration and the lucrative international art market. Nonetheless, the classical training and technical virtuosity of these artists, most of whom attended Havana’s renowned Istituto Superior de Arte, is apparent in their exquisitely rendered drawings, prints, and paintings.


The country’s distinctive Afro-Cuban heritage is represented by a group of highly established artists, who work in a range of styles and media. Roberto Diago’s moving spiritual and abstract work draws on elements of this heritage in addressing issues of race, religion, and slavery. In his dynamic mixed media sculptures and paintings, Manuel Mendive promotes this culture by referencing Yoruba spirituality, Cuban history, and colonialism. Choco (Eduardo Roca Salazar), in his bold collage prints, also explores racial identity, while commenting on the economic challenges of daily life.

Abel Barroso Arencibia Mango Tec Cellular (Mango Tec Cell Phone), 2003 Mixed media, wood, and paper 20.5 x 11.8 x 14.2 inches (52 x 30 x 36 cm)


We are witnessing a historic moment and a transformational phase in the arts and culture of Cuba. The U.S. trade embargo of Cuba more than 50 years ago is slowly being lifted. Recently, Barack Obama visited Havana, the first U.S. president to do so in 88 years, while American companies have begun to improve the infrastructure there, and global musicians, such as The Rolling Stones, are bringing their music to these nearby, yet cutoff shores. In Cuba, art is recognized as one of the major creative outlets of expression and is encouraged by the government. Havana initiated its own Biennale in the 1990s, a successful exposition on the world art stage. With this in mind, it is important to foster a cultural exchange with Cuba and have the artists’ voices be heard. Two Steps Forward refers to the current political and artistic climate in Cuba and the thaw in relations with the United States. On the one hand, the gradual lifting of travel and trade restrictions between the two countries has allowed artists to have access to more resources and to gain more exposure. On the other hand, change is slow and arduous, and economic strains continue for much of the population. Hence the title with its reference to the catchphrase: “two steps forward, one step back.� Arianne Faber Kolb, PhD Curator


Abel Barroso Arencibia Green Card, 2014 Mixed media, wood, and paper 27.6 x 39.4 inches (70 x 100 cm) Abel Barroso Arencibia (b. 1971) uses humor and wit to address the economic situation in his country. He creates handcrafted wooden sculptures that represent the Cuban search for identity and emphasize the challenges in accessing new technologies. His oversized primitive wooden cell phone is a commentary on the technological backwardness of the country. Green Card was painstakingly made out of pencil shavings, an arduous process that parallels that of immigration. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum.


Jacqueline Brito Jorge Serie La Flota: Espejismo (The Fleet Series: Mirage), 2009 Oil, glass, and silver leaf on canvas 37.4 x 48 inches (95 x 122 cm) Jacqueline Brito Jorge (b. 1973) teaches at Cuba’s most distinguished art academy, the Istituto Superior de Arte. Her work, which often consists of a variety of found materials, evokes the political climate in her country. The Fleet, a prime example of her striking mixed media compositions, with its floating vintage cars made of shimmering glass shards, references the desired exodus of the people.


Luis Enrique Camejo Vento Serie La Isla del Día Después (The Island of the Day After), 2013 Watercolor on paper 39.4 x 19.7 inches (100 x 150 cm) Luis Enrique Camejo Vento (b. 1971) often depicts rainy scenes of Havana, most notably of the Malecón, the broad esplanade, roadway, and seawall along the coast. These strangely under-populated urban scenes are like snapshots. Only certain elements—a tree, car, light fixture, or bike—are concretely captured. A professor of painting at the Istituto Superior de Arte in Havana since 1996, Camejo is well-known internationally for his melancholic urban landscapes.


Choco (Eduardo Roca Salazar) Te Estoy Mirando (I am Watching You), 2014 Collagraph (collage print) 19.7 x 13.8 inches (50 x 35 cm) Choco (Eduardo Roca Salazar) (b. 1949), one of the leading figures in Cuban art since the 1970’s, is internationally recognized for his collagraphy, a printmaking technique in which the image is composed from a variety of textured materials placed on a plate, then inked and pressed. Choco’s work reflects the rich belief systems of Afro-Cuban religions, as well as the racial and economic challenges of daily life. After the revolution, he was one of the first Cuban artists invited to the United States to exhibit his work in 1981. 11

Luis Alberto Pérez Copperi De la Serie Game Over: Victorias Paralelas (Parallel Victories: Game Over Series), 2015 Mixed media on paper 27.6 x 41.7 inches (70 x 106 cm) Luis Alberto Pérez Copperi (b. 1974) studied at the Cienfuegos School of Visual Arts until the age of 15, thereafter training as an architect. This background is evident in his carefully rendered monochromatic drawings. His surreal and symbolic works make statements about the political and economic realities in Cuba. In Parallel Victories, Copperi depicts missiles in the form of pencils, alluding to his own inner struggle as well as his country’s conflicts. For him, artistic expression was a source of frustration as he tried to find the time while making a living. When he gave up architecture, art became his salvation - his weapon of choice to defeat the constant struggle. “Game over.”


Juan Roberto Diago Durruthy Estudio No. 3 para el Monte (Study No. 3 for the Mountains), 2007 Oil on canvas 39.4 x 51.2 inches (100 x 130 cm) Juan Roberto Diago Durruthy’s (b. 1971) moving and spiritual work draws on elements of his Afro-Cuban religion in addressing issues of race, religion, and slavery. Blending the old and the new, the rustic and the refined, the primitive and the urbane, Diago’s work reflects both his heritage and his current reality. Study No. 3 for the Mountains juxtaposes the rural and urban landscapes of Cuba. His work has been featured in major galleries and collections worldwide.


Luis Antonio Espinosa Fruto Aguas Territoriales (Territorial Waters), 2015 Graphite on poster board 23.6 x 35.4 inches (60 x 90 cm) Luis Antonio Espinosa Fruto (b. 1974) is a master photorealist, who focuses on the landscape, more specifically seascapes. His drawing technique is so precise that upon first inspection his work has a photographic quality. In his drawings, the sea, a recurring motif in Cuban art, reflects the inhabitants’ isolation and desolation, while also evoking a sense of hope.


José Roberto Fabelo Sueño de Sirena (Mermaid’s Dream), 2001 Chalcography with blue watercolor 31.5 x 59.1 inches (80 x 150 cm) José Roberto Fabelo (b. 1951), whose work is in numerous international museum collections, is one of Cuba’s most accomplished and well-known artists. A master of many media, Fabelo combines distorted animal and human figures with imaginary scenery to create works, which blur the line between fantasy and reality. The mermaids and half-human figures in his detailed drawings and watercolors have a surreal and dreamlike quality, reminiscent of the Renaissance artist Hieronymus Bosch, from whom he drew his inspiration. Fabelo’s monumental and iconic print Mermaid’s Dream depicts Cuba in the form of a slumbering mermaid, detached from her surroundings and dreaming of another world.


Ever Fonseca Cerviño Ancestros (Ancestors), 2008 Acrylic on canvas 21.7 x 25.6 inches (55 x 65 cm) Ever Fonseca Cerviño’s (b. 1937) spiritual and expressive work is inspired by popular Caribbean mythology and legends. He combines poetry, symbolism, and naïve lyricism in his exploration of the roots of his culture. His paintings, which often represent mythical beings, have as a common theme the fusion of man and nature.


Héctor Frank Heredia García Sin Título (Untitled), 2014 Mixed media on wood 37 x 23.6 inches (94 x 60 cm) Héctor Frank Heredia García’s (b. 1961) works range from bright abstract paintings to more recent works of human heads consisting of mixed media and found materials on wood, which bring the images to life by lifting it off the background. As a self-taught artist, he infuses his work with a clever combination of unusual materials. 17

Eduardo Guerra Hernรกndez Pescador (Fisherman), 2014 Graphite on linen 31.5 x 27.6 inches (80 x 70 cm) Eduardo Guerra Hernรกndez (b.1967) is known for the dreamlike quality of his graphic work and his mastery of collagraphy, a hybrid collage printmaking technique. According to the artist, the allegorical drawing Fisherman has a universal theme. Society consists of three main categories: workers, represented by the fisherman, those who contribute nothing and only observe and criticize the workers, and finally the dreamers, who dive into deep and precarious waters in their search for the impossible. 18

Kcho (Alexis Leyva Machado) Sin Título (Untitled), 2007 Oil pencil and watercolor on posterboard 27.6 x 39.4 inches (70 x 100 cm) Kcho (Alexis Leyva Machado) (b. 1970) is internationally acclaimed for his monumental and evocative works, which deal with life on an island and emigration. He explores the motivation behind searching for a better life and fleeing from one’s circumstances. In Untitled, the precariously balanced tower of homemade boats and rafts refers to the risks involved in escape. His work is in international museums, most notably the Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.


Joniel Le贸n Marrero Homeland, 2015 Graphite on linen 29.1 x 13 inches (74 x 33 cm) Joniel Le贸n Marrero (b. 1985) studied art in Havana as well as at New York University. Homeland is part of a series from an exhibition entitled Home Sweet Home. These intricate photorealistic drawings, which depict the White House beneath an expansive sky, allude to the yearning to reconnect with the United States.


Harold López Muñoz Primer Impacto (First Impression), 2011 Oil on canvas 39.4 x 39.4 inches (100 x 100 cm) Harold López Muñoz (b. 1977), who was influenced by European painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, considers himself a “pop expressionist.” His bold paintings with broad brushstrokes project an atmosphere of uncertainty, albeit with a keen sense of humor. In his striking portraits, he focuses on gestures and attitudes to express the tensions and emotions of the Cuban youth.


Manuel L贸pez Oliva M谩scara de San Isidro (Mask of Saint Isidor), 2006 Acrylic on canvas 31.5 x 22.8 inches (80 x 58 cm) Manuel L贸pez Oliva (b. 1947) is both an award-winning artist and an accomplished art critic. Like some of his fellow artists, he explores the Cuban search for identity. Masks are prevalent motifs in his paintings, which have jewel-like mosaic patterning. They symbolize the necessity of keeping appearances and having a public face, while keeping the private one hidden. 22

Manuel Mendive Hoyo Sin Título (Untitled), 2009 Acrylic, shells, and metal on canvas 22.8 x 25.2 inches (58 x 64 cm) Manuel Mendive Hoyo (b. 1944) is a highly acclaimed and prolific Afro-Cuban artist. The primary theme in his art is his recognition that African religion and culture have shaped Cuban national identity and culture. Mendive utilizes imagery of his Yoruba religion to study the questions of contemporary life. He promotes Afro-Cuban culture through his colorful art by referencing colonialism, Cuban history, and Yoruba spirituality. His work exemplifies Yoruba spirituality, which focuses on embracing the earth to develop spiritual consciousness and achieve transcendence, thereby fulfilling one’s destiny.


Ibrahim Miranda Ramos Lágrimas Negras (Black Tears), 2000 Lithograph and woodcut 16.5 x 20.1 inches (42 x 51 cm) Ibrahim Miranda Ramos’s (b. 1969) striking prints with powerful messages have been exhibited internationally. Like many fellow Cuban artists, he addresses issues of insularity and migration. Miranda Ramos’s obsession with maps reflects his conscious desire to revise the map of Cuba. His maps often show Cuba as a sleeping figure disconnected from the developments of the rest of the world. 24

Rigoberto Mena Santana Mesa de Villar (Villar’s Table), 2013 Mixed media on canvas 19.7 x 19.7 inches (50 x 50 cm) Rigoberto Mena Santana (b.1961) is a leading Cuban abstract expressionist, who draws inspiration from urban landscapes and the spirit of the people. Mena utilizes color and gesture to express inner emotions and memories. He has recently established his own commercial art gallery in Havana.


Elsa Mora Tamayo Me Debo una Disculpa (I Owe Myself an Apology), 1998 Mixed media 24 x 18.9 inches (61 x 48 cm) Elsa Mora Tamayo (b. 1971), who now lives in the United States, produces mixed media pieces, which incorporate found objects and, more recently, delicate paper designs. Many of her works are semi-autobiographical and deal with the themes of survival, destiny, and self-exploration. In her early symbolic and poignant piece I Owe Myself an Apology, she comes to terms with her departure from Cuba and the breakup of her marriage. 26

William Pérez El Hombre es la Medida de sus Sueños (Man is the Measure of his Dreams), 2008 Etching on acrylic rulers 13.8 x 5.9 inches (35 x 15 cm) William Pérez (b. 1965) constantly reinvents himself through his development of innovative techniques. An accomplished draughtsman, he takes his skills further by experimenting with a variety of media, as seen in his illuminated and etched sculptural works. His clever portrait of Castro etched on small acrylic rulers, entitled Man is the Measure of his Dreams, is a play on deconstructed “rulers.” 27

Mabel Poblet Pujol Reflejada (Reflected), 2015 Digital image, PVC, metal, and acetate 29.5 x 17.7 inches (75 x 45 cm) Mabel Poblet Pujol (b. 1986) creates mixed media works that closely examine her identity, origins, and relationships with others, while also reinterpreting pop and kinetic art. For Poblet, the color red is central to her work, because it symbolizes the polarities of life and death. In her piece entitled Reflected, she incorporates plastic flowers created by female inmates of the Holguín prison. According to Poblet, “The flowers, made from recycled material, are absolutely kitsch. However, the process of designing and making them satisfies a need for emancipation and creativity. This experience not only moved me, but also made me question the relationship established among concepts like kitsch, folklore, and art.” 28

Angel RamĂ­rez Roque Asunto Pendiente (Case Pending), 2011 Oil on wood sculpture 27.6 x 17.7 x 9.1 inches (70 x 45 x 23 cm) Angel RamĂ­rez Roque (b. 1954) employs sarcasm and humor to describe life in Cuba. His art is recognizable by its clear and precise iconoclastic sagacity. He uses recycled objects, sometimes accompanied by text, to produce the visual poetry that defines his work. In his monumental hanging sculpture Case Pending, he questions how the figure in question will eventually be judged and whether his striking beard, traditionally a symbol of wisdom, is ultimately a misleading attribute.


Ramon Ramirez Sin TĂ­tulo (Untitled), 2015 Mixed media on paper 27.6 x 19.7 inches (70 x 50 cm) Ramon Ramirez (b.1973) is known for his Pollution Series, in which he addresses harsh social and political realities by means of the metaphor of pollution. In his ominous drawing of a tiny island with two smoke stacks emitting black fumes, a few figures stand on the edges while a lone rowboat approaches. As in other works, he expresses the difficult conditions and the feelings of isolation and desperation on an island. 30

Reynerio Tamayo La Batalla del Sushi (Sushi Samurai), 2012 Acrylic on canvas 45.7 x 39.5 inches (116 x 100 cm) Reynerio Tamayo (b. 1968) paints with technical virtuosity and an exceptional sense of humor and ingenious imagination. Since the late 1980s, his clever commentary on popular culture and kitsch has been one of the foundations of his painting. His works chronicle well-known figures, everyday life, popular customs, and national scenes. While he has predominantly focused on typical Cuban pastimes, such as baseball, he has also satirized popular culture in other countries and produced caricatures of various societies.


Diego Torres Rodríguez Emplazado (Staged), 2015 Oil on linen 24 x 36.2 inches (61 x 92 cm) Diego Torres Rodríguez (b. 1970) is a master photorealist painter, who specializes in finely delineated landscape paintings and drawings that describe a specific location while telling a story in subtle way. His landscape, with its stillness and spaces devoid of humans, contains hidden meaning and symbolism that suggests the island inhabitants’ trapped existence and desire to escape.


Enrique Wong Díaz La Celda (The Cell), 2014 Mixed media and acrylic on canvas 62 x 23.6 inches (157.5 x 60 cm) Enrique Wong Díaz (b. 1975) combines keen political insight with a touch of wit – quintessential Cuban traits. His bold images of boxes, cells, and trapped minds make powerful statements about containment and control. In The Cell, the viewer sees himself mirrored in the barred window of the dark prison door. 33

Ignacio MĂŠrida Sin TĂ­tulo (Untitled), 2013 Oil on posterboard 27.6 x 38.2 inches (70 x 97 cm)

Aliosky Garcia Sosa Talanquera (Catapult), 2010 Woodcut on posterboard 39.4 x 27.6 inches (100 x 70 cm)


Jorge C茅sar S谩enz G贸mez Sin Discreto (Without Discretion), 2015 Mixed media on wood panels 63 x 23.6 inches (160 x 60 cm)

Victor Manuel Ibanez G贸mez Blanco (White), 2012 Mixed media on canvas 20.1 x 20.1 inches (51 x 51 cm)


About Westport Arts Center The Westport Arts Center is the preeminent home for the arts in Fairfield County, delivering opportunities to learn, engage and be inspired for years to come. We deliver thought-provoking and creative programming for adults, kids and teens at all levels of expertise, providing access to both the best of the global arts community and local artistic experiences. The Westport Arts Center reaches more than 11,000 people annually through arts and education programs including art exhibitions, arts education, and the performance arts of chamber and jazz music. Our arts education and outreach programs for ages 2 – 18 will reach more than 4,000 students this year through school field trips, workshops, and family programs. Explore our website to discover the ways we connect our community through the arts. The Westport Arts Center is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.


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