Cuba On My Mind

The thriving Cuban art scene is claiming a rich, complex legacy with artists on and off the island. This was on display at a recent collaborative exhibition at the Von Liebig Art Center in Naples, Florida. Cuba on My Mind was a show that included paintings, photography and mixed media by various Cuban artists both on and off the island. Five artists from Havana and five artists from South Florida were featured. Bringing together different generations, Cuba on My Mind included the work of Eduardo Abela, Eduardo Miguel Abela Torras, Humberto Castro, Jose Andres Matos Alonso, Cirenaica Moreira and others.

One of the unrivaled talents from the island is Eduardo Miguel Abela Torras, the grandson and namesake of distinguished Cuban artist and cartoonist Eduardo Abela, a contemporary of Wilfredo Lam’s. Currently living in Havana, Abela offers the viewer a witty and often comic approach of Cuba’s history and current events. As a figurative artist, Abela merges culture, narrative and subject together to put forth his perspective. He says he does not follow the tendencies of contemporary art, but that is merely because he is “motivated by a more classical aesthetic and enjoys the great movements in art history.”

“In my work, there is always an influence of Byzantine art, religious art and even medieval art,” Abela says. “My intention is to deal with the things that inspire me and that Cubans face---exodus, precariousness, isolation, the perpetual economic crisis, solitude, the division amongst families---with an anachronistic play between irony and absurdity.”

He goes on to explain that the themes of his work come from the most personal and introspective parts of him, leaving behind tendencies, styles, and opinions on art. One example of this is Infanta & Malecón. In this piece, Abela appropriates two figures from the painting La Meninas by Diego Velázquez and contrasts them with Havana’s famous seaside boulevard, the Malecón. Spain’s Princess Margarita Teresa, known throughout history as “La Infanta” rides atop a boat Abela has painted to look like the Malecón’s breakwater.

For Humberto Castro, the world is saturated with images that are recycled and given new life by different artists.“Renovated ideas are something that should be celebrated,” Castro says. “Life and art is sort of like a spiral that in some form often repeats itself differently, but it does repeat itself.” That is why the artist paints about many things— love, liberty, relationships— and brings them to light by using other stories like Greek mythology.

“I paint about many subjects and I find a connection with ancient stories and re-work the idea in a contemporary way. For example, I worked on a painting about balseros [rafters] and I used the story of Ulysses who was lost at sea for many years. When I speak of liberty, I use Icarus, who seeks freedom with his wings. Generally, I use this type of connection to develop my contemporary work in order to give it a deeper sense and a heavier historical component,” he explains.

Born in 1957, Castro studied at San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts and the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana. He emigrated to Paris in 1989, where he was an active member in the Parisian intellectual scene, holding exhibitions and giving conferences all across Europe. In 1999, he moved to the United States where he still lives and works. Castro’s artistic interests include painting, printmaking and creating installations. Through these mediums, the artist presents pieces with great dimension. Some are monochromatic in color, while others are tinged ever so slightly with light oils, as if to emphasize the delicacy and poetic nature of his ideas.

“I really enjoy many types of different art movements, but no one of them influences me in particular,” he adds. “I’m influenced much more by things, not movements. I’m influenced by my culture, music, theatre, cinema and literature. And I bring all these things more to my work than an actual movement.”

Abela couldn’t agree more with Castro. To him, life dictates art and creating chronicles that life: “I’m very proud to be Cuban and to be able to create my work through the adversity, the shortage of materials, the passage of time and the necessity to live. Creating is something that gives me identity. It gives me spirit to fight! But most of all, it makes me believe that it’s worth continuing my grandfather’s legacy,” he concludes.