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11. Bard College Magazine. Interview With Cuba's Formost Art Ciritic Gerado Mosquera

11. Bard College Magazine. Interview With Cuba's Formost Art Ciritic Gerado Mosquera

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The Cuban and curator New York

art historian, Gerardo

crit ic,

Mozambique, Zaire.

Venezuela,

and

others. As a human Honduras,

rights reporter to

large than theater, music, or literature. Today the visual arts in Cuba have become practically a substihall, and usually institutute for the press, have assumed provided the electronic

Mosquera Hanly met in Their shortly to Ha-

during the eighties she traveled and on Paraguay. assignment She has visited
In

and writer Elizabeth conversation

El Salvador, Argentina,
the last six years for magazines to Allure. projects is a

City last April. took place returned

He has taught and lectured at universities more America, and other institutions fifty cities
in

in

Cuba five times ranging from Literary Among

media, even the meeting functions by these other

before Mosquera

than

Latin he 350 Artfo-

vana after participatzng
111

in a cur-

the United States, Africa, A prolific more write", than

the lLK. 's Guardian

riculum planning seminar (funded part by a Getty Grant) at Bard's Center for Curatorial Studies. Gerardo Havana Mosquera was born in his

and Europe. has published

Supplement her current

tions. In this way a critical culture has taken root; from the visual arts it has broadened other arts. Hanly: A number of young artists to me the the age of to include the

essays, articles, and reviews in journals such as Art Criticism, rum, Art Journal, Kunsttorum, and Oxford international forthcoming (Macmillan) Cahiers, Imagen, among and in of Art

book on the religious Imagination and the erotic in Cuba.

in 1945 and received of Havana.

Poliester, Third Text, Art Journal, exhibitions; Dictionary Elizabeth Hanly: Would it be fair edge of to say that the visual arts in Cuba have been at the cutting critical discourse Gerardo cally tionary this on the island? Well, historihave

degree in the history the Uniuersity Department National Havana. Design

of art from From

and poets have described early sixties,

others; in catalogues fur numerous nearly a dozen books including the and Latin American (Phaidon). a Gugplans for and Spain His current

early years of the revolution, as a golden Cuban culture. Mosquera: for discussion

1975 to 1980 he was head of the of Press, [irst for the Council for Culture From and

later for the Ministry of Culture in 1980 to 1985 he and from at the was Advisor for Visual Arts and

Mosquera:

It may be convenient to divide the history the revolution in

Art in the 20th Century In 1990 he was awarded genheim exhibitions Fellowship. in England projects inclicde tentative

may not always

been the case, but in postrevoluCuba the visual arts have in the culture, cerbecome the locus of the most radical experiences tainly generation with the emergence and early of the eighties.

of art following

to the ministry,

Cuba into three main periods. The first one was the sixties; these were the so-called stories Duros, Cuban States hard years-which is also the title of a book by Jesus of short

1985 to 1990 he was head of the Department Centro first of Research Wifredo three Lam in Havana, Biennials. placing cona

ofwor!? by young Cuban artists. Elizabeth standing Hanly, interest who has a longin Latin Amerifor The Miami Herald,

where he was also co-curator of the Havana
in

that came of age in the

Diaz , Los Ai/os

late seventies

publis hed in 1965. It was missile crisis, the Kennedy deepening United involvement during in Vietnam, those violent

Through his curatorial work he has been instrumental temporary but also Cuban in the Chile, wider audience, Angola, art before United States, Mexico,

That is, the visual arts have become a critical space within Cuban society, unlike many other societies in which serve the visual arts are the preof an elite and thus less

the time of the Bay of Pigs, the assassination,

can culture, Village Omni, Voice,

has written

New York Times, day, ARTnews,

not only in Cuba Colombia,

New York NewsElle, Vogue, Lears, Jones, among

sweeping social changes. Paradoxically enough,

and Mother

directly engaged with the society at

3

rtannly in Cuba the vis~a! arts have become the locus of the mGsi radical ex~e~ie!l1lcss the c\1. solution was in a terrible altogether. or the like. Servando situation olutionary Cabrera Moreno. however. There was a lot of . te ma ti c organization. in of socialist did exercise intellectuals government ideological and writers. it control on moral marginalize artists over or life. There was no systhere ideas.. :~ times. Eiriz. although the Cuban regime still didn't impose any aesthetic dogma to develop the modernist the official who Mosquera: Antonia in Miami. become the country was in a mess. many being shown in galleries and museums was to give one of his paintings to most of the important tural figures and bureaucrats Havana. grounds. Virgilio Pifiera. Consequently. when the revolution occurred continued.. whoever colored mg. there were state. tinued cult of Cuban even though a sort of identity. largely an extension idiom.. and because the modin ernist tradition was very strong other forms of protest.re. our Maleto the Rusto transas the the culwas Cuba. experienced of the culture. What the regime did. no? Mosquera: know. simply like that of Humberto abandoned Without any was critical: the condiwas to the had bloc. on the one hand. viches.d~u. nothing.. and after Cuba had spent all the money that was left over from the days of Batista. ginalized. and with Cuba in the center of much that was going on. energy artists in the air. I don't think so. trying of socialist modernism simply the So. was By during the seventies. The found themselves margins was promoting of campesinos heroes. was to ask for an "ideal"meaning ideological-art.. Hanly: Forever? Well. and there Eiriz and were that time because. role all over Latin Amer- ply too beautiful not to display. second period of art history in rev- as modernism already deeply ingrained in the life of the arts in Cuba. Such was the And that's an important difference had been playing were simhomes in from what took place in the Soviet Union in the twenties during those romantic kovsky. in with the emei'~er:lce of the ~e!1lerration that came of age B81l the iat<=!sevemltaes al!1ld eair!y ei~ht~es. superficial So artists. Hanly: tempts culture"? Mosquera: No. culture alliance with Cuba they just stopped painting. were following guidelines. the Manuel Mendive . were there at- tion to say that the state virtually created the film industry answer to his work's to create a "revolutionary Hanly: But by the late SIxties marginalized. for instance. who is now living just recently years later. Antonia Eiriz. they con- any formal statement. or whatever. in Cuba and those artists of what was wished to pursue a different course paint again. neither did we have our Rodchenkos. in music. an upsurge. the cultural scene in Cuba itself was quite open. For being homosexyou were marfrom you happened the to were writers I remember hearing that not for deviating pain ter Servando Cabrera from state control. Cuba. tionary Yes. On the other hand. that insofar early Tatlin. This of Cuba's and it's no exaggerain Cuba. as you a revolu- leading and artists: Jose Lezama Lima. our counterpart sian avant-garde form ture the whole that emerged spirit. so Havana would see these huge lilaccanvases of gay lovemak- ica. for example.. Cuba. Cintro Vitier. party's realism greater might. no decrees to impose realism from a doctrine But I insist you can't match this to the situation in Eastern Europe at Mosquera: Antonia painting Yes. The state paintings and cultural propaganda-type and revolutionary art. with guerilla wars all around Latin America. economy only utopian 1968 the situation tion. began to and by the begin- of the seventies part of the Socialist In cultural terms this was very bad because under the Soviet influence. days of Mayawas and Rodchenko. so you had countless many of the most important ual. guidelines. ce. The paintings went to those culin things had changed. Pe fia. Hanly: the Moreno's consigned to the the visual arts. Soviets did. was falling apart. and so on. twenty-five . in the sixties The was that the state began to provide for culture. as I mentioned earlier. After the failure of that movement. Early on. everything The government's form ning a closer Soviet Union. in literature. with feeling quite Cuban autonomous already developing But what happened a lot of support cinema. there was no official sty le imposed. interestingly. who declaration.

Ricardo now. Hanly: social strata-blue-collar for producing Afro-Cubans-but and I began to write they all had received professional so they were aware of art aesthetics. prizes. all What they held in comchains. Mosquera: born sixties. inside revolutionary workers. and others. control that the state would These artists wanted to be open to information odologies a practicing it had on the Yes. Bedfa. been so for quite even though demic. especially so a tal- but was an integral part of the ori- tem had grown so large that addifaculty of the recent graduates who were thought and their fresh presence have predicted ented were offered professorships. style of art. and to use new methand languages in art. Tomas on in New York ciandia. Hanly: So the next phase would of artists at the that it vored. gave a really accent to the art schools. And campesinos. by then the syswere needed." Cuban-f1ain the form Mosquera: Perhaps they weren't was Hanly: tion? Immediately after gradua- of comparison you might any better in pedagogical terms. liberal than mon was a deeply felt commitment to doing art without to official culture. Ruben Torres L1orcaMosquera: Soro. rewarded "Cuban. As art critic I got involved it was far be difto was with this generation. parts in Eastern Europe? . I doubt anythe first own art lose Mosquera: tional number Yes. which had been coincide with the coming of age of a new generation one could end of the seventies. It must have been quite a Yes. training. whatever visual arts. Hanly: moment. and Alejandro Brea. a recognizably or more generously precisely. perhaps look to de Kooning. At the beginning from certain given ferent the opportunity possibilities that they would in the late fifties so their they were entirely Cu ba. many former students went on to become professors. grants. So the teaching was acain Eastern Europe. semiotics. These entation of these schooois and had some time. The difference was that modernism not merely tolerated or accepted. Flavio Gar- were well informed" was going elsewhere. these people were and early life experiences came from all with them at the end of the seventies. art free of any connection Implicit was the commitment what many or most of whom are living abroad the ethos was much more abstain from the opportunism characterized What's more. about they what and of stipends. so to in this to that other Hanly: Havana Were superior the art schools in to their counternew artists wanted to pursue a different direction. So we're talking about Jose Esson. for a artists had begun to do in the early seventies. show their work. about them. history. we were exploring an exhibition.It's point highly original work. stance speak. trained in the revolution's schools.

compromised. what the artists happened met and the goal went to make guerilla theater? Mosquera: No. Reina Paz's around regard Originating in the visual that I've spent in one week. was and the bureaucrats. So we were cial newspaper]. through copies warehouse destroyed." which took 1981 in Havana del Ane place in January at the Galerfa Nacional. work to metaphors. But that film something of a curiosity now. everybody what they're about.Mosquera: The feeling was exhilait Hanly: But the matter didn't come end they relented and gave the Hanly: Are you speaking ~ of rating. has been one of the artists. Hanly: coverage Of course in Granma there was no offiMany of the young time with. And canceled official had arts. I did manage. with such films as Adorable quite critical. but there was approached the officials at the" L" University before assumed the vanguard tion in Cuban erature. poets those Maria work as yet seen on with and of the When was that film reLies. in must have been like for the avantof the for Mosquera: next is that century-the something . the Pedro Luis was printed. They were afraid that a movement touch a shingle that he built. youthful work. But that show marked a new era in culture. ate concern the possibility sense of fighting that mattered. Strawberry asked to remove the pieces from the gallery. A delegation of Culture of making a differ- ence. ingly opposed culture were nearly contemptuous Paz novel it came from. attempts space. here a critical to theater. I remember Mosquera: To be sure! Bur the fact out to be such an in a diffimight that. and so a huge crowd came and had atmosphere and exuberant. and again the answer to put of a show at the house Jose Hanly: Three years later! Mosquera: Cuban artists cultural rated. Manuel they the public. there's to the Ferrer song from the eighties: "The old uncle would his house than rather tear down have anybody I haven't the latest film he worked Gutierrez Chocolate. Hanly: leased? Mosquera: About four years ago. culture. and as a result the nation's atmosphere The visual was reinvigoarts had never posia role his- figures-everybody. by Senel Paz. and everything for the opening then we received had a university exhibition because considered ideologically word been event had a very strong impact on the bureaucrats. to the regime. invited more direct. and they said yes. Mosquera: status quo. these are plays that in the conventional it's an ongoing battle . was no. and this was the famous No. it must be shown this secure Gallery Havana. Alea. Hanly: [Cuba's come to preview the show and had it not to be. of doing something their case. too. similar to what I suppose garde in Paris at the turn to rest there. from a screenplay culture music. afterward. The cinema. shall we say. to we of including cultural It was like an at secrecy. whatsoever The event. get produced censorship. In theater. to show other their of discourse. new. to the Ministry Central way. In the . yes. I didn't cult position. Mosquera: different. Three years later. So from began. about exhibition "Volume I. underground no effon a party. were able understands together Foros. and that was all. And difficult. So the a catalogue was set that the torically occupied by music or lit- was assembled. everybody. too. it expanded and dance. But there are many cases of often use allegorical speak Other times they're talking an and culture. Well. correct." like it IS over time. No matter. to get several from the copies are before the rest were of the catalogue the surviving that this turned but many of the young event put the bureaucrats an underground begin to grow. Hanly: gathered Rodriguez. might become increas- a lot of strong opposition very much either. So dramatists modes a passion- resolved to keep pursuing of an exhibition. artists a chance to show their work officially. So it was decided But of course for a work of art to have an impact on society. in and for the opening prominent Cuba in the late seventies we found to be extremely after many an exhibition of the Finally. a friend.

many individare in sympathy with in such plays. the intent say that the visual arts are leading the battle? Mosquera: Hanly: In my view. stood It's confusing with ous times during the performance. people regime who seem to within the limits. a ban was imthe ambience posed. they in theater. such It's hardly a culture surprising that a. and so theater in Cuba now. or uals who paintings. very disturbing. we've made culture into that society in general. at one moment. people marvelous. inside I don't I think the borders. What happened to the every border. this book to create and then with to some respect. think that's his it's to stay just He's one of It's a wonder that the play in a theater at was ever performed all. you see. and probably more liberal. he was able thing later. that we receive through which another our our problems the is regime. Hanly: that came a few years we both and there were no further he was. to Lacking discuss quite direct and very good indeed. Mosquera: strategy. As for theater. to articulate of the transformation goals. that's how it is. After one weekend performances.Hanly: Do you think it's because Alea? Yes. were There tation. the socithere are to who are trying those intellectuals this socialist still remain that we find in ety is not monolithic. people up and applauded. icize specific policies into sharper the problems utopia. It is a contin- you were describing Mosquera: going beyond is a critical In recent speaking Oh. But at this pomt can we yes. Hanly: what is expressed or poems. yes. according whom backpedaling. and to do it in street art movement of the eighties? . let's say. Lies. was electrifying. philosophical remember of a play whose proach critical. by a young way. Mosquera: many support But. For know exactly what they can do and better or worse. Hanly: But certainly the painters were trying- such things. for me that Adorable somePaz to do splnt Cuban because has become culture. were the people everywhere. propaganda. uing battle. years-and generally-the critical and concerns. this rhetoric through official forum the media. by the going to a performance commitment but whose was highly Numer- of a genuine given that both the press and the university are controlled deconstruct all this false represen- underlying to the issues the time was right was to socialism. here I'm of the plays is not so much to critbut to bring of of focus such issues as of socialism. pervasive need in it's to forum. I dramatist ap- of Gutierrez Mosquera: sensed 'something Hanly: and I think will be critical.

meanings ern world. we might been an issue. Hanly: religion. ourselves professional Western and critical occurred: the Caribbean using the outand images. erva Lopez. Cuba's hand describing. epitome expression. in the non-Westthey route In a way. after all.lly know. I think. neighperforpolitical have left the hasn't in popular resembled art or art related to focus gious rituals ward forms. wanted than than culture which is very tradias you And this is a very different initiation might attracted myths. an ontological So always inside what Havana. voodoo Cuba be ourselves. but on the content. whereby as mestizo. I think All around approach. we have and Abaku i. identity. for Cuba. In Cuba. I think it's unique is a more religious Arar. unrelated During another stances namely. know. often but for a couple they drew murals that of Afro-Cuban Lam and the pioneering of Fernando Cabrera Ortiz back in the for- on sidewalks. Hanly: cultural The coexistence expressions of all these always in certain art. can one which arose from the circumof the about These young earlier. artists ing. A lot of them reasons. young spiritual where tices Grupo artists Oh. Jose Bedia. Santeria. is an uncanny feel on the is as you Latin had There the and America a problem we've of and a few were jailed. undergo to receiving exposure aesthetics So here who these you to Is work done of tint quality in the strong. importation to go to Europeans population the same decade development of some there was in the arts. know-that reverence island? Speaking would of Afro-Cuban you agree-this of mine. the myths is. the heart of the society. many the fragments. But this more internal expression in Cuba. times European we've African always it's time just upon collage. Besides. is. with the were I think. a situaCO\1- this totalization fine ourselves the reproduction of altars and ritu- tion that has facilitated 9 . mances country. Carlos Ricardo Bravo-it's there is something Maybe farnilie . And it found began only with ncctions among even more tradi- nons over time. Hanly: being Caribbean) Mosquera: to Cuba. white. with a worldview profoundly culinstallation 'lis in art.i. wish. But I think to get rid of all this and And what we the We have to take there are four main African systems: from Palo. an island. you'll find what immigrants. Americans whether cans. art aspects Their Western-educated. and so on. we have more African tions than Braz. Think Cardenas. whose connection traditions Afro-Cuban were part it has to do with expressions. in neighborhoods ferent cultural white Creole indigenes. the slave insecuour Latin about AfriAt more less It's be we artists I was speaking Afro-Cuban people religions. Then Haitian No. America a preoccupation there one was the early settlement ill Latin of Native the people All this with regard have we're we through presence then of an indigenous Americans. has it' you genen. formalist and a lot of hybrid and not try to construct we de- ory. kind of becomes rituals had and these trainart thespans religious of everyday Lam. been comfortable Mosquera: Well. forms. haunting who grew up within to those many praclife.taking to conceptualism. in the visual like Wifredo Rodriguez MinMarta really Brea. Maria Perez quite a lot. their involvement arts and probably of painters Manuel in music as well.Mosquera: the those now. to the Europeans. Mendive. g en e rar io ns . c rca t c d a certain to defining worried or whatever. but for based a different wi t h identity. are living Most abroad of years to of in sional making steeped unique ture. Wifrcdo ethnography and Lydia ties and fifties. are is this mosaic. Cuba. rity instability. Havana painted borhoods. On one there's a being the site of many difit's very Europeans.il. you'rcreierring Arr e Calle. rallies. in and gave street not on the relithe outon were or trappings. and a very interestll1g phenomenon profes- ward signs. has produced American the Mosquera: proach own because Probably romantic I myself you're your apis more than my am living But about of of African at least African trade. On the other hand it's very considered ourselves from what an intellectual elsewhere black. . tended artists. cults.

Hanly: Cuban culture. and the process of them. Some of them make But they steal because of the prevailno space although for conthat's not sculptures. no Well. where do they get by a child. and also rafts and small boats made of lead-a poignant these surely raft reminder and boat people that some one of continual this may reader to to write and still maintain position there. In the gallery he used a of contempocontinents. have at the work exhibited? You worked on earlier young artists these days? What are the youth of Cuba doing? Mosquera: movement Weeds almost somehow strong.And probably identity. are huge exhibitions rary art from these accompanied to do with acting out of our iden- old. very with them. Hanly: Are you working with ference with your writing? Mosquera: a problem are other No. Research I worked as part of the team for the first three and at the same time I of in at the Centro Wifredo to research Have you experienced really the case. Many of them are students graduates of the Instituto Superior del Arte. which Lam orga- more. I really don't with forms interference. They really do' Hanly: Are they getting their It's truly an impressive you to stop? any inter- says that he'll keep doing boats as long as the problem persists. Hanly: named atmosphere in Cuba. And part of the fleet consisted of old shoes. by workshops. He wood. I think the Cuban during the eighties had Mosquera: twenty-two. posia. made out of wood. the Mosquera: don't They know pilfer In practical how they materials terms manage. rather than reflecting on our In fact. piece. Hanly: Centro? Mosquera: becoming wanted In early difficult 1990. IS lation by a young artist known who's old and beginning nationally. sym- is. we should be acting Hanly: How old are these kids? Typically twenty-three around years or Mosquera: Cacho. I was subjected search at the airport For more than two all my lugthat was head of the Department Lam. there's I've they thrive. very of are Hanly: about does When anyone you urge write now artists. thousands cardboard. or they receive they're my professional be hard for the American from abroad. Mosquera: floor a fleet of small boats. recent No wonder. Latin America Wifredo and the East. The Havana to biennials? Mosquera: curatorial biennials. For example. so-called third world from Asia. and then placed paper. ing image of Cuba as an oppressive with going to sink and drown. culture today then. an instalas twenty-four years Africa. But I'm sure and people by what trip to New York. half a dozen customs officials for some document be compromising for me. Sometimes and there. arranged in the shape of a triangle like a fleet heading to the north. compass north to find Caribbean. convey many power showed. from here things very the I has to deal with that. Hanly: Mosquera: Biennial Yes. that Hanly: Given the economic crisis in today's The culture is respondsituation. The Centro and the Middle to exhibit interexactly where on the nizes the Havana Biennials. of pressure. the Weeds or other personal objects. understand society frontation. experience tity. like toys made dreds. It was to write as I When did you leave the is a critical their materials? ing to our current government negotiation. hunCuba. The Centro was created attention they searched I'm working Can you describe any of the pieces? 1984 as all institution and promote contemporary art-art gage. and the like. . that because they vital. wooden interesting. hours looking might Of course there to Cuba after a some of their work. a new the yet very receive and earlier this year included probably a good bureacrats were upset image of a free in they least not directly. last time I returned to a prolonged in Havana.

writing Reina Cuban national Except regularly I'm known For instance. had left. Not on it for the interna- tional community. everyone customs. Why La Reina Sofia is and they you allow critic to this internationally ier the to write this essay for us? Much create totally airport." but trouble institution. because ask. exhibition them rill here in the United States. Mosquera: situation Yes. my own ideas. interfered. Cuba. and co recover work in my field. easas In is so in a space to go through completely in their hands. think tural [ know yourself aren't who art. you see. that agent or anything I'm not in contact political pi y trying co put forth groups to play the role not a CIA tons of mail from every some envelope. that my articles in journals outside I'm currently La it and if the of an intera scandal all of are writing or their only of another scene on in theI can't livand who's island ing on the cutting reporting edge of the cul- a piece for the Centro Sofia in Madrid.All the other and the search carrying opened retained trylng roms. ater. I was people They notices from cus- But. the same. I'm still to be part of a cu lrure. that with any of the I'm simto in Cuba. Hanly: create Isn't passengers cominued. and catalogues and slides. problems under where that's required you're control. . they know very well that I'm not trying of a dissident. it contradictory and yet not to to inter- Hanly: throw there Cuba new \'Vccds. Not you don't other groups equivalent that. about like at the airport many about fere with your writing? Mosquera: appear abroad. won't known in Cuba is rather unique. it appears that llly could create something with a capital a prestigious would "5. authorities scandal. Cuban the but want to but in the the people that kind of havoc for you any bouquets. and they of the sort.

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