At the heart of the exhibition Sin Máscaras (Without Masks), currently at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, is the inherent contradiction between socialism’s ideals of equality and the lived experiences of racism for Cuban artists of African descent. Centering the Afro-Cuban experience, its complex social and political history, and the censorship of voices seeking to expose inequalities, Sin Máscaras is described as the largest and most comprehensive exhibition dedicated to contemporary Afro-Cuban art to date. It features some 150 artworks by 40 Cuban artists living on, and outside the island. Their work gives a diverse account of the subjects of racism, religion, Afro-Cuban identity, and the firm ties between Cuba and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The exhibition’s underlying themes derive from the history of Cuba’s African descendants, who were seized predominantly from West Africa. Since their uprooting, the country’s legacy of subjugation and deep-seated racial bias has persisted, evolving over centuries. First as slaves, then as obedient second-class citizens during US Hegemony, the marginalization of the country’s Black population—despite claims to the contrary—continued well after the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
Seen implicitly as a division of class, the ill treatment of Black and mixed Cubans on the eve of revolution was considered both counter-socialist and counterrevolutionary. Shortly after his arrival to power, Castro launched a series of campaigns aimed at eliminating racial disparities socially and economically. The core issue of racial inequality, however, continued to fester: Castro’s reforms tackled unequal opportunities among minorities, but they never addressed the historical, cultural, and structural conditions that gave rise to it. After deeming his efforts successful, Castro pronounced that any further discussion of racism could “divide the nation,” and would be considered a crime against the regime. This led to the continued masking and erasure of the experiences of Cubans of color.
The long-lasting effect of their repression is, of course, linked to key factors—namely, Spain and United States’ strong influence over Cuba. In his essay “Nuestra América (Our America),” written in 1891, the Cuban author and visionary Jose Martí called for the rejection of their imperial values in favor of a politically and culturally autonomous Latin America. Necessary for this reform would be Cuba’s unity, including the casting aside of identifiers such as Black, White, or Mulatto. “There can be no racial animosity, because there are no races,” Martí proclaimed. Platitudes like “race is not an issue” and “we are all Cuban” have been common refrains over the past century and a half.
Full article at: ARTSLANT