Art Exhibition—“Diago: The Pasts of This Afro-Cuban Present”


“Diago: The Pasts of This Afro-Cuban Present,” exhibit by Cuban mixed-media artist Juan Roberto Diago, is now on view at the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art (Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University, 102 Mt. Auburn Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts). The exhibition, curated by Alejandro de la Fuente (Director, Afro-Latin American Research Institute at the Hutchins Center), opened on February 1, and will be on view until May 5, 2017.

Description: This exhibition includes 25 artworks of mixed media and installation art that span Diago’s vibrant career, since the mid-1990s, when he began to construct a revisionist history of the Cuban nation from the experience of a person of African descent. It is a history of enslavement and cultural loss, but also of resilience and recovery, the kind of history that is required in this Afro-Cuban present. This is the first retrospective exhibition of this prominent Cuban artist, offering a critical and selective view of two decades of uninterrupted work. Curated by Harvard University professor Alejandro de la Fuente, the exhibition will run until May 5th. Harvard University Press has also published a bilingual volume—with the same title as the exhibit—that offers a review of Diago’s work since the beginning of his career.

Juan Roberto Diago: A leading member of the new Afro-Cuban cultural movement, visual artist Juan Roberto Diago (b. 1971) has produced a body of work that offers a revisionist history of the Cuban nation. His “history,” a term that he frequently inserts in his works using the visual language of graffiti, contradicts the official narrative of a racially harmonious nation, created through the selfless efforts of generous white patriots. Diago’s Cuba is a nation built on pain, rape, greed, and the enslavement of millions of displaced Africans, a nation still grappling with the long-term effects of slavery and colonialism. To him, slavery is not the past, but a daily experience of racism and discrimination. Africa is not a root, but a wellspring of cultural and personal affirmation, the ancestors that sustain him in his journey. This exhibition examines Diago’s creative work over the course of his entire career. It traces his singular efforts to construct new pasts, the pasts required to explain the racial tensions of contemporary Cuba, the pasts of this Afro-Cuban present.

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