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When art meets politics

SaltFineArt presents exhibit of 11 Cuban artists who don't shy from criticism of Castro.

December 29, 2011|By Cindy Frazier
  • SaltFineArt owner Carla Arzente and artist Esterio Segura stand under his sculpture “Goodbye My Love” in the artist's studio in Havana, Cuba.
SaltFineArt owner Carla Arzente and artist Esterio Segura…

SaltFineArt in Laguna specializes in Latin American Art, but gallerist Carla Arzente probably never imagined that she'd be traveling to Cuba to curate a show about dissident artists.

The idea arose when the gallery was part of the L.A. Art Show and happened to be stationed across from a Cuban gallery.

"I became friends with two artists at the booth," she said. "It was their first time in the U.S. and the first time Cuban work was at the L.A. Art Fair. So I decided to do a full Cuban show."

The ambitious nature of the show is clear, as her website touts the exhibition as "its most daring and intense show to date, featuring 11 artists living and working within a culture that has been shut off from the rest of the world. More than just an exhibition of art, ¡CUBA! is a rare view past the sociopolitical show and into the hearts and minds of its people."

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Cuba is now open to U.S. tourists, but it is still very difficult for Cubans to travel outside their country. The country still clamps down on political dissenters, but for some reason artists have been somewhat immune from this treatment, according to Arzente.

She began to put the show together by talking to artists and writers in Cuba via Skype. From a selection of more than 100 artists, she winnowed the group down to 11, including some very well-known artists and some who are just beginning to be known. Three of the artists are planning to come to the U.S. for the Jan. 5 opening, and as of last week they were still waiting for their visas, Arzente says.

The gallerist then made her own journey to Cuba, and was shocked by what she found when she visited the artists in their homes. While tourists are kept to the parts of Havana that are relatively new and clean, many parts of the country are so dilapidated that they are literally falling down.

"A huge apartment complex fell to the ground while we were there," Arzente said. "They said it was from age. Only four buildings have been built in the last 40 years." The cities are charming but, from photos Arzente took while in Cuba, seem lost in a time capsule. The cars are all from the 1950s, and clothing is similarly dated.

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