Art exhibit explores Cuba’s African heritage

Rudo Mungoshi looks at “Without Masks,” an exhibit of Cuban art opening today at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in South Africa.

Cuba’s African heritage is being explored at the largest and most diverse exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG), Without Masks. The exhibition opens today, Africa Day. Curated by the internationally known Orlando Hernández, the exhibition will run until the end of August, coinciding with the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It will comprise a range of work by Cuban artists, including paintings, films, sculptures and a video installation.

According to the City, the exhibition will focus on Cuba’s African heritage, exploring the two major themes of race and religion within contemporary Cuban society and the practices which thrive today that were brought to the Caribbean island from west and central Africa by slaves.

“The exhibition will give South Africans the opportunity to engage with the issues it raises,” it said.

Cuba is a multiracial society of mainly Spanish and African origins. Spanish is spoken and Roman Catholicism, the dominant religion, is tolerated by the Marxist government. A public programme running in tandem with the exhibition, will give visitors the opportunity to hold debates and discussions with Hernandez and some of the artists themselves, who will be in South Africa during the first week of the show. They will participate in educational programmes, walkabouts and seminars.

The art on show is from a brief, yet important interlude of Cuban art, between 1980 and the present. During this time, the treatment of Afro Cuban themes has assumed new and bold characteristics, in contrast to the relatively stereotyped artwork of earlier periods.

A further theme that will be highlighted that is of particular relevance to South Africa, is Cuba’s lengthy involvement in the Angolan war. The two countries were on opposing sides in the civil war, fighting on behalf of opposing ideologies.

Artists participating in the show will include Belkis Ayán, Manuel Mendive, Bernado Almoguea and René Peña. Ayón, a lithographer, explored Afro-Cuban religion. Her worked combined the myth of Sikan and the traditions of the Abakuá, a men’s secret society. She committed suicide at the age of 32. Mendive, who also emerged from the revolutionary road, has received numerous awards for his work. He has participated in many group and solo art exhibitions in Cuba and Europe. Almoguea is known for painting brightly coloured, politically probing works from his government-owned potato stand.

A self-taught photographer, Peña explores the problems of racial and social minorities in his art. His works are part of private collections in Cuba, Italy, the United States, Switzerland, Belgium and Argentina, among other countries. In all, 26 artists will participate in the exhibition, which will show about 80 works. They include the internationally acclaimed artists Joe Bedía, Yoan Capote, Carlos Garaicoa, Armando Mariño, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Elio Rodríguez, Douglas Pérez and Roberto Diago. “The City is proud to be part of such an event that will bring the Cuban touch to our doorstep, and that our citizens will be able to share this wonderful and unique experience,” it said.


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