50 years after a revolution, a celebration of Cuban art

by Keith Barber

50 years after a revolution, a celebration of Cuban art

On Jan. 1, citizens of Havana celebrated the 50 th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.

Wake Forest University professor Linda Howe marked the occasion by assembling an art exhibit entitled Cuban Artists’ Books and Prints: 1985-2009, which premiered at the Grolier Club in New York City in May.

Now the show has returned to the Wake Forest campus. In conjunction with the show’s arrival, 5IVE & 40RTY Gallery will hold an opening reception for its exhibit entitled, Aquí Estamos: Cuba is Here, on Friday. Assembled by Wake Forest students, faculty and staff in collaboration with numerous professionals,the exhibit features more than 100 pieces, including handmade, limited-edition books by the bookmaking cooperative, Ediciones Vigía and other objects created by 13 contemporary Cuban painters, sculptors, photographers and printmakers.

Lauren Gray, a 2009 Wake Forest graduate, helped assemble the exhibit. Gray said the team divided up the myriad tasks necessary to pull the everything together. Some students would translate Spanish books into English, while others would transcribe interviews of Cuban artists. Gray took a lead role and even helped organize a fundraiser for the project last year. In fact, she helped pack up the exhibit and ship it off to the Grolier Club. She then hopped on a plane and traveled to her hometown of Philadelphia and made a daily commute to New York to help unpack the show earlier this year.

“There’s a lot there that can speak to you no matter where you’re from,” she said. “It’s a very unique way to disburse information when you have issues of censorship that we have no concept of here in the US.”

Art patrons will discover Emily Dickinson books translated into Spanish, as well as the work of French and Russian authors in Spanish. Gray believes Cuban writers gravitated to Russian literature due to similar censorship challenges.

A biology major and Spanish minor, Gray characterized the assemblage of the exhibit as a multi-departmental effort that proved to be one of the highlights of her undergraduate days. She said the school’s romance language department, art department, law school and business school all contributed to the success of the exhibit. Gray said the idea to bring the exhibit to the community was always part of the student group’s strategy.

“Wake has become a bubble,” Gray said. “The city is there but students don’t necessarily use it, and the community doesn’t attend university symposiums and shows.”

Gray said Winston-Salem’s art scene is very active and she wasn’t surprised when 5IVE & 40RTY Gallery came on board. Gray said she hopes the gallery show will be an “arrow point” to the university show at the Scales Center, which runs through Oct. 6.

Howe started an interdisciplinary entrepreneurship project two years ago for the purpose of creating an exhibit that would bring national and international attention to Cuban artists and their work.

“These artists have survived cultural politics, difficult living conditions and resource shortages that limited their access to the most basic materials, like paper,” Howe said in a statement, “but the project is not about politics. It’s about living our university motto, ‘Pro Humanitate’ — for the good of humanity.”

Gray said the handmade books inspired other Cuban artists to “jump in” by expressing similar themes in different mediums.

“It’s the idea of spreading information to a population that would have trouble getting information,” Gray said. “The idea was, the publishing co-op was going to make more creative books. There’s a tremendous kite with words on it; there’s a doll with writing on her clothing; there are prints with no words at all. They are all making points about the government or the country, and it reflects the art of a very vibrant people.”

Just a sample of theCuban art on display at 5IVE & 4ORTY Gallery’s exhibition AquíEstamos: Cuba is Here, which runs through Oct. 6.

by Keith T. Barber /