Art Exhibition: Tony Labat’s “It is what it is”

The Wifredo Lam Cultural Center of Havana is hosting the work of a pioneer in video installations, Cuban artist Tony Labat, “who reflects a provocative and critical position toward the American society in his personal collection ‘It is what it is.’”

“It is what it is” is Labat’s first personal exhibit in Havana, the city from where he (at age 15) and his mother departed in 1966 heading for Miami. His father stayed died in the Cuban capital. Labat notes that in his life, politics have always had and will always have the final say. “In their context, I’m not an immigrant but a refugee, and in my work I’ve always reflected my point of view based on my personal experience.” The need to reconstruct his identity led him to leave Miami for San Francisco in the ‘70s, “to take some distance and find out who I really was.” There, through video, he registered social events, alignment, the power of the media, violence, and mass culture.

Felipe Dulzaides, one of the curators of the exhibit—a former pupil and current friend of the artist—sees Labat’s work as a cocktail of biculturalism. “That is almost like a clash and when artists have gone through an experience like this, very interesting works have resulted, such as those by Cubans Ana Mendieta or Félix González Torres, both deceased in the United States. Tony belongs to the same generation.”  Commenting on the complexities of history that abound in Labat’s work, he adds that, “very few artists living in exile refer to their experience there, to their displacement, to multiculturalism, to the conflicts we all have.”

Alberto Dolz writes, “Although he is not a nostalgic militant, Tony Labat cannot help looking back at Cuba. Since 1999, he has visited his homeland on five occasions. He always brings students with him and he gets involved in the island’s academic life by visiting the Higher Arts Institute or participating in the Havana arts biennials.” Asked about how Cuba is present in his work, Labat says, “It’s there as usual, with the spirit, the energy, the smile, life; things that I miss when I’m there and that I very much long for.”

Tony Labat (Havana, 1951) received his MFA from the San Francisco Arts Institute in 1980. For 30 years, has been chair and associate professor in the New Genres department of the institute (SFAI), where he has been producing thought-provoking work in various media. Dedicated to working in multiple disciplines with each project, his art often combines elements of installation, sculpture, performance and video. Having exhibited at prestigious galleries and museums around the world, Labat’s work resides in a number of prominent collections and has received several awards and grants, among them two from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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Image of work by Tony Labat from

One thought on “Art Exhibition: Tony Labat’s “It is what it is”

  1. Mojon!!!!! I guess that I have to go back to Miami Springs Sr. High, The Electric Circle, The adventures we had in S.F…….. It took some 30 maybe 40 yrs. to connect AGAIN!!!!! Drop a line,I know we did a few of those….. I’ve never forgotten you…. GUS……7863955075

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