‘Island’ art peers inside Cuba
GUEST CURATOR KEITH WICKS dusts off the work of Petaluma artist David Best, who created a replica of the handmade tank Che Guevara famously used during the Cuban Revolution.
Cuba is not a country that can be experienced in a book – it has to be felt. There is a heartbeat, a rhythm that flows through the country, lifting it up despite decades of strife. It’s this energy, this mise-en-scene, this sense of place that the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art captures in its latest exhibit, “Revolutionary Island: Tales of Cuban History and Culture/The Sarah and Darius Anderson Collection.”
“There is a different level of passion, a different level of sadness and a different level of political struggle that goes on there,” said Darius Anderson, an extensive Cuban art collector who is also a principal of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns the Index-Tribune.
It is the examination of that struggle – often highlighted by the good nature and sense of humor of the Cuban people – that is captured through the many eyes of artists featured in the exhibition. As most of the work is contemporary, it represents the worldview of a generation living in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution. It’s a time of change and flux, as the people cope with the realization that all of the promises of the revolution can’t be met.
This can be seen most apparently in Estério Segúra’s sculptural work, in which he depicts a Disney-style Pinocchio standing atop a weathered tower of copies of Fidel Castro’s tome,“History Will Absolve Me.” The book, based on a four-hour speech Castro gave while defending himself in court in 1953, is considered to be the manifesto for Cuba’s 26th of July Movement, when revolutionaries overthrew President Fulgencio Batista’s regime.
Anderson said he was drawn to the artwork in a culture that has long been oppressed, both by its own government and by myriad foreign governments, from Spain and France to the United States and Russia. Franklin Alvarez Fortún’s painting takes a literal approach, showing a child’s head being crushed under a military boot. Other artists spotlight the insular struggle to maintain the Cuban identity with so many outside influences, such as Armando Mariño’s painting of Colonial settlers literally being pushed out of frame by Cuban natives.
“Oppression is absolutely critical to the creation of art in Cuba,” Anderson said.
But the exhibit also spotlights Cuba’s other, perhaps more popular side. The exotic island is the motherland of the world’s tobacco supply, and with an ideal climate for sugar cane came a thriving rum industry. With limited viable, conventional industry available, especially since the American embargo went into effect, Cuba today has found a place for itself selling vices.
“It’s been the driving basis for the Cuban economy: rum, sugar and cigars,” Anderson said. “The Cuban economy dropped after the Russians pulled out, and those are the products they relied on.”
While he’s been visiting the island nation since the 1980s, Anderson said he and his wife began “seriously” collecting art in the 1990s, and have amassed an assortment of more than 1,000 paintings, sculptures and objets d’art, such as hand-carved humidors. Working with Valley artist Keith Wicks and museum Executive Director Kate Eilertsen as curators, Anderson spent weeks selecting the right mix of pieces for the exhibit that offered a snapshot of the many viewpoints of Cuba.
“It was about finding the narrative and telling a story that would work,” he said. “But most of the art, it speaks for itself.”
Anderson attempted to bring as many of the Cuban artists featured in the exhibit to Sonoma as possible, but ran into trouble acquiring the correct visas. However, artists Estério Segúra, Rene Francisco and Ruben Alpizar will visit the Valley and take part in an artists’ roundtable to discuss their culture and work with Anderson on Saturday, Jan. 19, at 2 p.m. at the museum. On Saturday, Jan. 26, at 2 p.m., Sarah and Darius Anderson will host “Art, Baseball, Rum, Tobacco and Other Vices,” an afternoon dedicated to Cuba’s primary luxuries.
The full exhibit will open to the public on Saturday, Jan. 19, and continues through April 14. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located at 551 Broadway. For more information, visit svma.org.
When asked why he wanted to bring this showcase to Sonoma, Darius Anderson said, “The more people that get exposed to Cuba, the better. A lot of the propaganda we’ve been told over the years is untrue.”