The most diverse and widest ranging exhibit of Cuban art ever presented in Los Angeles opens Saturday night in the form of a pop-up show entitled Made in Cuba: Recycling Memory and Culture. Running through November 21, the exhibit is being held at the Arena 1 Gallery at the Santa Monica Art Studios at 3026 Airport Avenue and open every Wednesday through Saturday from noon until 6 and by appointment.
Made in Cuba is curated by Sandra Levinson, director of the Cuban Art Space in New York, the first gallery to exhibit and sell post-revolutionary Cuban art in the United States. At Levinson's initiative, a successful suit was brought against the U.S. Treasury Department in 1991 which made it legal to import and sell original Cuban art despite the U.S. trade embargo. She has traveled to Cuba more than 300 times, building strong relationships with talented artists in all fields and that is the key reason this exhibit is able to present such a comprehensive collection of contemporary Cuban artists.
Levinson has been working tirelessly to change U.S.-Cuban relations since she first went to the island in 1969. At the urging of intellectuals and activists, including photojournalist Lee Lockwood, Saul Landau and Jason Epstein of the New York Review of Books, a Center for Cuban Studies was founded in 1972 with Sandra as the executive director. At the time, she thought she would leave her teaching job for perhaps a year to establish the center in a small office in New York's Greenwich Village, just big enough to hold a library and provide a space for presenting lectures and films. However, after being open less than a year, the Center was bombed while Sandra was there, destroying much of the library and other materials. When she was asked the next day at a press conference, "Are you going to close the center now?" Levinson responded, "Absolutely not, and what's more I am not going to leave here until we have normal relations with Cuba!"
That was in 1973 and at the time, it seemed that just meant until the end of Richard Nixon's presidency, but it is a promise Levinson has kept as the director of the Center for Cuban Studies and now the Cuban Art Space. (While the U.S. and Cuba have recently reopened embassies in their respective countries, travel restrictions still apply and the economic embargo remains in effect.)
Over the past forty years, Sandra and the center have followed the ups and downs of both U.S. and Cuban government policy, sometimes able to travel, sometimes not; sometimes able to invite artists and musicians and writers, sometimes not. But all the while, Levinson has been building a collection of Cuban art, posters and photographs that tell the story of the Cuban revolution in a way that books and speakers cannot. As Levinson explains it, "From my very first visit to Cuba, I met writers, musicians and artists and my first passion was Cuban poster art. With each visit, I would bring in film and political posters, usually 100 or more on each visit. Because of that passion, the Center now has between 4000 and 5000 posters in its collection."
Made in Cuba features a mix of internationally acclaimed artists such as
Kadir Lopez, Manuel Mendive and Choco (Eduardo Roca Salazar), as well as emerging artists such as Marlys Fuego, Carlos Cesar Roman and Mabel Poblet. Many of the pieces of art that will be shown use recycled and found materials because, as the internationally renowned Afro-Cuban artist Roberto Diago, whose art will be exhibited, explains, "During the economic crisis, we didn't have the materials you need to paint as we were taught in school, so we adapted our art to what we could find." Diago and other artists discovered that this experience in the '90s changed their art for the better and broadened their artistic vision. They began using not only new "found" materials, but also new concepts.
During its 5-week run, Made in Cuba will also feature special guests, screenings of Cuban films and book signings. More information is available from Santa Monica Art Studios 310-397-7449 or firstname.lastname@example.org.