Our first steps: Cuban, American student art symbolizes international reparations

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 11.23.16 PM.png

A report by Eliana Yu for The Purdue Exponent

At a time when American tourism technically remains a violation of federal law in Cuba, artistic and scholarly collaborations seem to become proportionately more momentous and meaningful.

Dennis Ichiyama, a professor of visual communication design, was invited to the collaboration initially by a professor named Flor de Lis Lopez Hernandez in November 2015. Ichiyama said Cuba’s tradition of poster art has remained strong since its revolution, so to coordinate the effort on Purdue’s end was a privilege.

“The timing (of the collaboration with the Cuban university) was really quite amazing because the pope had already been there. Obama came after that; the Rolling Stones came after that. And then,” said Ichiyama with a twinkle in his eye, “we followed the Rolling Stones. So that’s pretty good, huh?”

Certainly, the circumstances to the ongoing “Woman” exhibit in Rueff Galleries distinguish it from other displays of art and Cuban culture. For the first time, American and Cuban students — from Purdue and the Instituto Superior di Deseño — collaborated to present the 38 posters hanging in Pao Hall until Sept. 9.

The last sitting president to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge in 1928. Thus, 88 years later, President Barack Obama’s March 2016 visit set a pattern in motion for cultural collaboration between the two countries. “An invitation 90 miles away took 90 years to arrive,” wrote Ichiyama in titling his brief essay about the exhibit.

In fact, Ichiyama cleverly incorporated details from Obama’s trip to garner more help in printing the posters, which he would later hand-deliver to Havana from Miami due to travel constraints. Friendly persuasion, he jokingly called it.

“Obama went to Havana on Air Force One — guess who was on the plane, which I found out on the night he was flying to Havana,” began Ichiyama. “The CEO of Xerox was on the plane. The CEO of Xerox is a woman. The CEO of Xerox is an African-American woman. So I immediately went to the Xerox team here in Lafayette and said, ‘Did you know that your super-boss was on Air Force One?’ And they said, ‘Well, no, we didn’t know.’ I explained the reason she was on the flight in addition to the CEO of Hyatt. … Both women are on President Obama’s economic advisory committee. So I said, ‘You’ve gotta help us. But you know how hard it was to get approval to (attribute Xerox on the credits poster)? Corporate America is very sensitive about their image.”

Soberingly, Obama’s trip to Cuba’s capital has not fully re-established relations between the United States and the largest island in the Caribbean, said Harry Targ, a professor of political science and director of peace studies. He authored a book, “Cuba and the USA: A New World Order?,” after his visit to Cuba in the ‘90s.

“Obama has used his executive powers to establish more visits … (but relations) are not fully re-established,” said Targ, regarding the efforts of the Obama administration in 2014 as overdue. Far from painting Cuba as a portrait of socialist failure, as is popular with some U.S. propagandists, Targ pointed to Cuba as a “beacon of hope” for developing countries, inspiring them with hope for reform in education and healthcare.

The struggle to overcome machismo in Latin culture continues, of course, as society, family and both past and present history shape what woman has been, is and could be. Even the traditional images objectifying women, displayed on posters to attract foreigners, have received some effective pushback from the Cuban Federation of Women. Public opinion with regards to sexual preference and fluidity have been reflected with “radical change” over the past 30 to 40 years, said Targ.

Targ’s final word on Cuba would be that the U.S. would “gain immeasurably” from reopening economic and political gates between the countries. Cultural gains could be strengthened through such collaborations as written above; sports, art, film and musical ties could flourish as well.

Ichiyama said his only regret about the lot of the exhibit was that Purdue students were unable to attend at that time. Those who hope to study abroad in Cuba, however, may apply to study abroad for the Spring 2017 semester and take part in an educational collaboration between the Purdue College of Liberal Arts and the Instituto de Filosofia in Havana. For more details, readers may contactebenedi@purdue.edu or targ@purdue.edu.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s