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.Dated about a decade ago, the following statements are from 2009 a year in which, as now in 2021, it seemed essential to gain awareness about the situation of Cuba’s national visual art inventory. Below we share fragments of several conversations around the topic.
“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.
"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.
“It is a must to have culture,sensitivity, and a big commitment to safeguard our visual arts for future generations.Beyond the short-term benefit that represents making a sale, it is important torecognize that art is the center of what we do, and not the monetary benefitsthat could come from making art.” November, 2009, José Ángel Toirac, artist, in 2018 he was granted the NationalPrize of Plastic Arts, the highest recognition that Cuba concedes to a livingvisual artist.
“What stays in Cuba It is verylittle. I know that the National Museum of Fine Arts, has recently bought someyoung artists, but it doesn’t seem to cover it all. We should keep in mind thatfrom this situation, there is an impact for the estimation of our artinternationally. Precedents like this are hardly reversible tomorrow. A country’s 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.” Sep, 2009, RodolfoPeraza (Fito), multimedia artist, his work was regarded internationally at anearly moment in his career due to his insights and sharp conceptual depictionsof technology and its impact in humans physic and virtual shared spaces.
“In the future we will have totravel to other countries to see our own art. Even if an urgent plan werecreated to counterattack today’s reality, then it would be necessary to reflectall the important artists and leave out any political bias on the selection. Forit to really work out, we would need a machine to atomize prejudices.” Nov, 2009, Rolando Vázquez, interdisciplinary artist with focus onreligion and politics, he was titular professor for over a decade at theprestigious San Alejandro Art School in Havana, Cuba, his work delivers anexquisite outline of what defines the Cuban sociological outcome.
“The only solution for things tostay 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 asa specialist and curator, most of the pieces we have come from donations of theartists. It is not enough to be responsible and alert about a trouble. To conserve, critics would have to stop working in the academic field and then apply to become decisions makers; it is very complicated. In the spheres of management sometimes there are people who can’t really estimate this singularity, and that’s because the subject is not part of their expertise.” Sep, 2009, Nelson Herrera Ysla, critic, writer and art researcher, atthe time of the conversation he was working as specialist and curator at WifredoLam Contemporary Art Center, in Havana, Cuba.
“Many of the most important worksare gone. To have an idea let’s mention the fact that only during the 10 days ofthe 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 art works. The initiative seemed to be very well welcomed but ironically nothing was never don. Everything stayed pending to develop. We were able to get a signed document with the authorization by the members of the economic management of the country, but after that nobody called us to start the project. Since those days many things have already left the country.” Nov, 2009, Rafael Acosta de Arriba, Doctor of Art, among othersrelevant positions in the State-run Cuban cultural apparatus, he was forseveral years President of the National Council of Fine Arts.