Visual arts are a fundamental column for the Cultural Patrimony of every nation. In Cuba, however, such principle has been threatened by a dynamic in which a considerable number of the most important contemporary fine art production, as well as works belonging to splendorous periods of the Cuban art history, are today outside the country.
The situation represents a challenge for the defense and preservation of our cultural heritage.
Below we share fragments of several conversations around the topic.
Dated about a decade ago, the statements are from 2009 a year in which, as now in 2020, it seemed essential to be aware of the situation around Cuba’s national visual art inventory.
“It's bad that what we have today is not satisfying the necessary keeping of contemporary art within Cuba. It’s very difficult since in Cuba there are not almost private collectors and the majority of the collections are in hands of State institutions which is not how things ideally work in the field of art collecting. The absence of a sector of national collectors that can stand out for their art is key in understanding the circumstances. The Cuban government had the intention to sponsor the acquisition of pieces by State organizations in order to expand institutional collections. There is something called preventive purchases, aimed also to acquire artists in development in their initial moments, which can be very effective. Although it takes a lot more than what’s been done so far. Maybe now we don’t see the imminence in which everything is happening, but in 20 years, we will for sure regret not having taken proper action.”
October 2009, Daris Vázquez, gallerist, critic, curator and back in 2009 she was
working as a gallery specialist at La Acacia, in Havana.
“It is important to have culture, sensitivity, and a big commitment to safeguarding our visual arts for future generations. Beyond the short-term benefit that represents making a sale, it is important to recognize that art is the center of what we do and not the monetary benefits that could come from making art.”
November 2009, José Ángel Toirac, artist (in 2018 he was granted the National Prize of Plastic Arts, the highest recognition that Cuba concedes to a living visual artist).
“Many of the most important works are gone. To have an idea, let’s mention the fact that only during the 10 days of the VIII Biennial of Havana, in 2003, the total of sales was calculated at approximately two million of US dollars. Several years ago there was a proposal that the most recognized artists, and supervised by a committee of experts, instead of paying with money for their income earnings, they would contribute with their artworks. The initiative seemed to be very welcomed, but ironically nothing was done. Everything stayed pending to develop. We were able to get a signed document with the authorization by the people involved in the economic management of the country, but then nobody called us to start the project. Since those days many things have already left the country.”
November 2009, Rafael Acosta de Arriba, Doctor of Art, among other relevant positions in the State-run Cuban cultural apparatus, he was for several years President of the National Council of Fine Arts.
“In the future, we will have to travel to other countries to see our art. Even if an urgent plan were created to counterattack today’s reality, then it would be necessary to reflect all the important artists and leave out any political bias on the selection. We would need a machine to atomize prejudices.”
November 2009, Rolando Vázquez, an interdisciplinary artist with a focus on religion and politics, for over a decade he was a titular professor at the prestigious San Alejandro Art School in Havana, Cuba; his work delivers an exquisite outline of what defines the Cuban sociological outcome.
“The only solution for things to stay on this side would be the developing of strong institutional collecting, but there is no money. At Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, where I work as a specialist and curator, most of the pieces came from donations of the artists. It is not enough to be responsible and alert about this issue. To conserve, critics would have to stop working in the academic field and then apply to become decision-makers; it is very complicated. In the spheres of management, sometimes the people that work can’t really estimate this singularity, and that’s because the subject of the matter is not part of their expertise.”
December 2009, Nelson Herrera Ysla, critic, writer and art researcher; at the time of the conversation, he was working as a specialist and curator at Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, in Havana, Cuba.
“What stays in Cuba? It is very little. I know that the National Museum of Fine Arts, has recently bought some young artists, but it doesn’t seem to cover it all. We should keep in mind that from this situation, there is an impact on the estimation of our art internationally. Precedents like this are hardly reversible tomorrow. A country whose visual arts are better portrayed and viewed outside its national geography, may not be perceived so well in the international art market. Unfortunately, that’s what the future looks like now for us.”
December 2009, Rodolfo Peraza (Fito), multimedia artist, his work was regarded internationally at an early moment in his career due to his insights and sharp conceptual depictions of technology and its impact in human physic and virtual shared spaces.
"The artists have had a generous posture. They value the importance of their works to remain in our National Museum of Fine Arts. Funds were allocated to the National Council of Fine Arts to assemble a broader collection. The Ministry of Culture understands and is aware of the situation. There is even the willpower but in the end, the amount of the budget is not enough."
December 2009, Sachie Hernández Machín, curator, gallerist, former Director of Servando Gallery; at the time of the conversation she was in charge of the Visual Arts Development Center, a key State-run cultural institution in Havana.