LONDON — In November 2007, Chris von Christierson’s wife, Marina, decided to take him to Cuba for his 60th birthday. Just before leaving, Mr. von Christierson mentioned to an acquaintance that he was heading to Havana. “You must meet my aunt and uncle,” she said. When the couple arrived at their hotel, a message awaited. Lucha and Orlando Hernández were coming to fetch them.
“They took us to their home, which was pretty humble but with the most amazing art completely covering all the walls,” Mr. von Christierson, a South African-born, London-based mining entrepreneur, recalled during a recent interview. Mr. Hernández, it turned out, was a former curator of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana and a prominent writer, critic and poet. He explained to his guests that he was particularly interested in the protest art of Cuba in the 1990s, when the government relaxed some control over artists.
“For the first time, they were able to express religious feeling, which had been banned in an atheist system,” Mr. von Christierson said. “The other strong theme that emerged was racism, which is alive and well in Cuba even today.” These themes resonated strongly for Mr. von Christierson. “Having lived through apartheid, I found the art similarly evocative and powerful, but also amusing and full of satire,” he said.
No one, he discovered, had put together a comprehensive collection of contemporary Afro-Cuban art. “Why don’t we do that?” he asked Mr. Hernández. They shook hands on a deal: Mr. Hernández would source the work, and Mr. von Christierson would pay for it.