Growing up in Neverland

Scarfone/Hartley Gallery

March 4 -18, 2016

 

Growing Up In Neverland is an exhibition of artworks created primarily during the last decade by seven outstanding Cuban artists who reside on the island. The exhibition aims to foster a cultural dialogue within the Tampa community by revealing the most significant currents in contemporary Cuban art, allowing viewers to catch glimpses of the wealth of imagery, the variety, and mastery of media and techniques, the diversity of poetics, and the wide range of subject matter and conceptual approaches that make Cuba one of the world’s richest and most dynamic centers for the visual arts today.

 

Growing Up In Neverland was designed to promote honest and diversified conversation around artworks that reflect, from a wide variety of points of view, some of the everyday concerns that weigh upon the Cuban soul, resulting from the contradictions, uncertainties, and unresolved problems that Cuban society faces as it moves toward the future.  Although a more politically correct approach to an exhibition of Cuban art would be equally valid, artistically speaking, it is our opinion that an authentic cultural encounter with the Cuban imagination requires openness and a desire for mutual understanding regarding the dire social, economic, and political tribulations within Cuban society and the changes they have led to.

 

The title of the exhibition refers to Scottish writer James Matthew Barrie’s 1904 play Peter and Wendy, which tells the story of Peter Pan.  In addition to connoting the play’s dichotomy between childhood and adulthood, the title plays on the word “Neverland”-- the land that never was and will never be, lying beyond time, where one will never land or set foot.  For the Cuba of this exhibition is both a real island and a symbolic one.  Many Cubans, including the artists represented in this exhibition, admire and repudiate the island with equal passion.  For them, Cuba is at once the focus of everyday life and an exotic terra incognita; beloved site of childhood joys and dreams, yet a terrain lashed by hurricanes and confronting ideologies; land of economic crisis that’s been isolated by others, yet willfully self-secluded; a society that’s been mortified by longing and memory, and is both the source of utopias and the origin of diasporas. For Cubans, adulthood can mean regaining consciousness of reality and overcoming the illusory national narratives they grew up with—a metamorphosis that, against all odds, has been reflected in most of the best Cuban art over the last thirty years.

 

All the artists included in this exhibition grew up within the Revolution, as did their art. They come from different social, cultural and ethnical backgrounds, and are of different genders, generations, and regions of the country; they all express, through their distinctive creative processes and chosen media-- painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, collage, video and animation, etc.-- the vast multiplicity of issues facing Cuban society, such as emigration and exile, the clash of generations, and conflicts of identity. And as artists, they face additional issues, like the dilemma between art-for-art’s-sake and social activism in a closed society; the choice between personalized voices and the standardization of art and trivialization of the art market; conflicts between freedom and indoctrination; and the choice between truth-as-one-sees-it and the conceptual distortions resulting from the politically interested use of language, which leads to a critical rereading of history that turns the cultural image into a battleground. 

 

Thus the artists of this exhibition—Ernesto Leal, Pedro Pablo Oliva, Sandra Ramos, Lázaro Saavedra, Esterio Segura, José A. Vincench, and the collective known as The Merger-- have created vehicles for understanding the complexity of contemporary life and art in Cuba. The common factor among the works of such a diverse group of artists and a wide variety of styles, mediums, and topics is a distinctly ludic inflection, a sort of playful, clever tone that imbues every single piece.  Sometimes this tone is tinted with irony and satire; sometimes it’s drenched in bittersweet, melancholic memory. Yet even in the case of works whose subject matter is unmistakably serious, in which the artist’s “playfulness” takes the form of iconoclasm or critical distance, we are still in presence of a kind of conceptual cheek that probes the apparently verbatim rendering of subject matter and questions its meaning—meaning that, though often arbitrary, can all too easily be taken for granted.  In this way, all the works in the exhibition convey the idea that within the context of Cuban culture, games, humor, and iconoclasm can be the best signs that one has grown up.

 

The Scarfone/Hartley Gallery, as both an art institution and an educational platform linked to the University of Tampa and the community of Tampa itself, is an ideal setting for the kind of free and open discussions this exhibition is designed to stimulate. The central aim of Growing Up In Neverland is to encourage dialog and promote cultural exchange, through the sharing of knowledge of important Cuban artists and their work.  Since Tampa hosts the second largest community of Cuban émigrés in the United States, it is inexorably linked to Cuba by strong ties that describe a common history and spiritual heritage dating back more than a century—ties that continue to be preserved and nurtured in spite of the apprehensiveness that operated for too long on both sides of the Florida Straits. Building on the momentum created by the recent rapprochement between the peoples and governments of the United States and Cuba, this exhibition could not be better timed.  Tampa, as a historic host to Cuban art and culture, is destined to continue deepening its role as a meeting point between U.S. and Cuban cultures and communities, and a base for the spreading of Cuba’s rich legacy to other cities in the United States.

David Horta

Curator

 

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