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Posted on Tuesday, 03.11.14

Fabiola Santiago: Cuban artists’ cultural exchange in Key West hyped,

The Cuban art exhibit in Key West billed as a “cultural exchange” and
“groundbreaking” is neither.

For one, the art of Roberto Fabelo, Manuel Mendive and Sandra Ramos —
the star artists from the island being featured — has been showing in
Miami since the early 2000s.

Their work in South Florida is as commonplace in art galleries, local
museums and major fairs as that of any accomplished Cuban or
Cuban-American artist. And why not? Layers of political exile, economic
migration and, by now, native-born generations, have generously fed the
effervescent Miami art scene for decades.

In fact, before the island-dwelling artists headed to Key West for the
opening activities staged by The Studios of Key West, Hemingway Home &
Museum and Oldest House & Garden Museum, they were seen all over Miami.

They sipped wine and martinis at local haunts, visited museums and art
galleries where their works hang, and relaxed and partied with friends
and family.

“This happens in Miami 24-7,” Miami artist Xavier Cortada agrees.

There’s little in the Margaritaville artistic offering that’s new, but
one awkward note: the title, Una raza/One Race, for a show of Cuban art?

Cubans are not a race, as much as we’d like to think we’re that special.

Even more confounding: One of the organizers forgot that the event was
taking place in a free country and chided Cortada, the only Cuban
American invited, for asking the Cuban artists relevant questions about
the level of artistic they enjoy — or not. She told him
(patronizingly so) it was “offensive” to the Cuban artists.

We moved on from stunted speech in Miami a long time ago. We ask, they
answer if they want to — or not.

Cortada, known for his ecologically themed installations, was invited to
participate at the last minute as a stand-in for the young Cuban
collective Stainless, whose only member to get a visa in time was
Fabelo’s son.

Had it not been for Cortada’s presence, there would have been no free
voice, nor any substantial conversation between the artists and the
public about “the elephant in the room,” as Cortada calls the lack of
freedoms in Cuba. The “exchange” might have been a monologue.

Not that this project is a true give and take. A real exchange would
have shown in Havana the contemporaries in exile of Fabelo, Ramos and

Thirty wood carvings by a dead Key West folk artist of Cuban descent
showing at Havana’s premier national museum, Museo Nacional de Bellas
Artes, is hardly comparable.

Nothing against the lovely work of Mario Sanchez, a cigar-maker’s son
born in 1908 who is either rolling in his grave or jumping up and down
at being shown in Castro’s Cuba, depending on with whom you speak.
Nothing against the work of the participating island artists, two of
whom I interviewed extensively many years ago, when their presence was

What’s dishonest is that this “cultural exchange” was driven by the
political interests of business people in Key West who want to operate
in Cuba, and not by an organic movement of Cuban artists and curators
who want to genuinely share experiences and exchange points of view.

What’s being sold to the public in Key West is business and hype as art.

Source: Fabiola Santiago: Cuban artists’ cultural exchange in Key West
hyped, dishonest – Fabiola Santiago – –

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