Because the following tale seems so outrageous, so unlikely, I initially avoided writing about it. Thinking back to my brief second time in Havana, however, it so typified my experience and my own sense of self that I feel I have to at least try to capture it.
Follow this trail: my first trip to Havana (July) I was standing in the Casa de las Americas, standing outside the doors where we had just heard a presentation on racism in Cuba. Looking around the room, I spotted a huge painting that could only be by Roberto Matta - the fellow Chilean with the worldwide reputation. I started speaking to a gentleman near me, one thing lead to another, and after talking about Matta he handed me his card. At home, I followed up by linking on Facebook only to find that Milo Vallis is an artist's agent, traveling all around the Americas with a strong emphasis on Cuban artists. At some point in our Facebook connection, I posted some work and another artist chimed in, an artist in Cuba. Anticipating my then-upcoming trip to Havana (February) I friended HIM on Facebook and started a brief exchange. Denys San Jorge Rodriguez, now a new Cuban artist friend-on-Facebook, it turns out had a show that had just opened in Havana! Turns out his show was hanging in the Hotel Nacional - the same hotel in which I was now lodging - and I would be there during the run. Finally, it turned out, that Denys would be glad to show me around his show once when I was there. At this point, I can hardly follow the thread of the contacts, but let me just say that while elaborate, it seems very much like me to have made this happen.
So let me talk a bit about the show. The show, "La Habana Que Me Han Dao, La Habana Que Te Dejo" ("roughly: The Havana I was Given, the Havana I Leave to You") is a collaborative exposition. Denys San Jorge teamed up with Sonia Almaguer, another Cuban artist, to create imagined vistas of famous Havana landmarks. Sonia, the photographer, captured the iconic buildings in a multitude of images at different times - evenings, rainy days, mornings - and from a number of distinct angles. For each of the works, the artists collaged and overlaid the prints to both recreate the buildings in somewhat imagined style, laid out on a canvas and overpainted with a dynamic acrylic overlay. The effect is lovely, with each image somehow managing to capture the past of the landmark and, with effects and coloration, point forward to an imagined future.
One of the remarkable elements of this exhibition - closing this month after a five month run - is that its quality, its subject, and its location have given the work a very high degree of attention (and not just from me!) The day before I met with Denys, the Cuban Minister of Culture had visited the show. International figures (e.g., Serbia, Estonia) and others had all had a chance to view the show. The exhibition itself was covered extensively in the Cuban media and a robust campaign to highlight the work was available on the Internet. This comprehensive exposure of the work provided me with some insight. Cuban artists comprise a powerful avant-garde within a well-developed cultural milieu - a country with a keen attention to its artistic output. While many of these artists seem to be unknown in the US, they have an international following and evaluation out-of-proportion to the size of their home country.
Denys took the time to show me each of the works - to describe their process, to explain and place each work in its own context. As I have repeatedly found in the Cuban people, he loves his country and is proud of his work. Above all, he was kind and considerate to me, an incipient artist, sharing his time and his attention. He didn't have to do this; I don't represent anything beyond myself - someone who is interested in art and artistic processes, and someone who just wants to better understand where we are and how we got here. If anything, Denys did indeed leave me with a bit of Havana; for this I am ever grateful.
Here is a link to Denys and Sonia's exposition and some associated materials. Give it a check.