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The Collection / About

The von Christierson Collection

By Chris von Christierson

There are few, if any, countries on earth like Cuba. Against all odds, it has survived its post-war history with its independence int act after episodes of misrule, rebellion, onslaught, isolation and hardship. More remarkably, notwithstanding all that its people have endured, it hosts a unique and vibrant culture, deeply rooted in its origins and modem history, which is strongly manifested in its art and music. lt is these special circumstances that make Cuban art so expressive and evocative.

My wife Marina and I visited Cuba for the first time in 2007 and were immediately and specially attracted to it. Not only were we lifted straight back to our colonial childhoods of the fifties, but we identified strong similarities with our own troubled country of birth, South Africa. We also soon recognized a complex and imperfect liberation culture, rooted in Africa, with the unique rhythms, colours and sounds that Africa has to offer – all so familiar to those who know and love it.

Upon our arrival in Cuba and by pure good fortune, we met Orlando Hernández and his delightful and resourceful wife, Lucha. Orlando, formerly Curator of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, a prominent writer, art critic, poet, anthropologist and researcher of Afro-Cuban religious practice, soon introduced us to the world of contemporary Afro-Cuban Art. He exposed us to works by artists ranging from those with works in national museum collections, to unknown “street” artists with no formal art education, all linked by a common and powerful Afro-Cuban thread. We discovered that not only does this art portray the strong influences of Africa on Cuba’s history, society and culture, but it captures and expresses problems it has in common with that continent.

Thus a new-found interest and collaboration was born, which has enabled our family, with Orland o’s expert guidance and Lucha’s practical facilitations, to assemble a collection of important contemporary Afro-Cuban works of art, sufficiently representative to constitute the core of an exhibition. However, what makes this collection unique is that not only does it portray the obvious African connection common to all Afro-American art; it goes much deeper and exposes and unmasks the racial inequalities and discrimination that still exist in modem Cuban society and indeed in most societies of our world – hence the name Without Masks. lt also captures the special link between Cuba and South Africa created by the war in Angola – such a key event in the transformation of modem South Africa and indeed the sub-continent. lt is fitting, therefore, that the collection will be shown for the first time as the Without Masks: Contemporary Afro-Cuban Art Exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, one of Africa’s finest and most prestigious cultural venues, with Orlando Hernandez as Curator.

We hope that in addition to the talents of the artists, this website will convey to its visitors the important themes and messages that the art captures and portrays of the human struggle for coexistence.

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