Cuba’s Bay of Fat Cats

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In “Cuba’s Bay of Fat Cats,” Abigail Jones (Newsweek) writes about the many wonders, surreal beauty, and contradictions of 21st century Cuba. She also offers us a glimpse of an ultra-creative society and a view of Havana’s art world through the eyes of collector Alberto Magnan (of the Magnan Metz art gallery in New York). Dr. Michael Connors—specialist in decorative arts, and author of many books such as Havana Modern–writes, “I highly recommend reading Abigail’s article as she was able to convey the Cubanismo that we all so cherish.” Here are excerpts (and I enthusiastically recommend reading the full article—see link below):

[. . .] Half an hour later, guests start disappearing inside, so I follow—down a spiral staircase until I reach a living room so vast and opulent I feel as if I’m on the set of a Leonardo DiCaprio period drama. [. . .]

Everyone here is dressed—older women in gowns, young models in tight dresses, men in sharp suits and hats and shiny shoes. It’s as if age—and Communism—doesn’t exist here; older guests mingle with the younger set, and not a single person is looking at a smartphone. I am surrounded by Cuba’s intellectual and cultural elite. I meet Cucu Diamantes, the Grammy-nominated Cuban-American singer and actress, and her husband, Andrés Levin, a Venezuelan-born and Juilliard-trained American record producer and filmmaker who won a Grammy in 2009 for the In the Heights cast album. He spearheaded the inaugural TEDxHabana last November. Together, he and Diamantes founded the fusion band Yerba Buena, which earned a Grammy nomination for its 2003 debut album. Levin points out some famous Cuban actors and musicians. There are even a few members of the Castro family. A cloud of cigarette and cigar smoke envelops us all.

[. . .] At the same time, in a country where almost nothing has changed for generations, I found cranes erected across the city in preparation for renovations and construction. New paladares pop up almost weekly, as do small pizza shops. Hotels are filled with tourists; at Meliá Cohiba, where I stayed, I heard more American accents than I usually do walking down a random New York City street.

Now that the country is opening up for the first time in over five decades, hope, determination and money are in the air, and everything is up for grabs: real estate, construction, telecommunications, tourism. Small businesses, from bicycle and car repair to plumbing, restaurants and taxis, are all poised for growth. Netflix has announced it is coming, despite the fact that just 5 percent of Cubans have Internet access, according to a 2012 Freedom House report. [. . .]

Cuba is suddenly brimming with potential, restrained by a tentative government and populated by hopeful, hardworking people. Who, exactly, stands to benefit and who could be left behind? Is Cuba’s future a newfangled Jamaica, thronged by spring breakers, bachelors and bachelorettes wearing Che Guevara T-shirts and Castro-style Army caps? And is that a best- or worst-case scenario? Cuba is suddenly brimming with potential, restrained by a tentative government and populated by hopeful, hardworking people. Who, exactly, stands to benefit and who could be left behind? Is Cuba’s future a newfangled Jamaica, thronged by spring breakers, bachelors and bachelorettes wearing Che Guevara T-shirts and Castro-style Army caps? And is that a best- or worst-case scenario? [. . .]

[Alberto] Magnan is known for showing Cuban artists like Roberto Diago, who explores race, religion and Afro-Cuban roots; Alexandre Arrechea, a founding member of the collective Los Carpinteros; and Glenda León, who represented Cuba in the 2013 Venice Biennale. [. . .] Today, Magnan is behind some of the most innovative and controversial art events in Cuba, including Chelsea Visits Havana at the National Museum of Fine Arts in 2009, the first art exhibit of American artists in Cuba since the revolution. The event was part of the 10th Havana Biennial, which, despite its name, has occurred every three years since 2000. [. . .] In 2012, Delgado transformed the Malecón into an art exhibit for the 11th Havana Biennial. Arlés del Río’s Fly Away featured the silhouette of an airplane cut into a large, rectangular chain-link fence placed at the edge of the seawall. Rachel Valdés Camejo installed a large mirror facing the water; she called it Happily Ever After No. 1.

“Art moves society, and art moves people,” Delgado says. “I hope Obama will help the cultural scene here, give funding to make books, do shows and help artists promote their work…. I want Havana to have its theaters filled.” He pauses for a moment, then looks straight at me. “Bueno,” he says. “Maybe you could find out where [the new money] is gonna go?” [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.newsweek.com/2015/03/20/cubas-bay-fat-cats-313183.html

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