Vancouver Sun

Without Masks: Afro-Cuban art reveals the body at MoA

Kevin Griffin

Most art exhibitions have fairly traditional methods of showing works. In group shows, for example, they’re often displayed alphabetically or by themes.

Aesthetics or how works look also plays a role, especially in the placement of the first work of art someone sees when they enter a space. Not to be discounted is an artist’s name recognition or market value.

Without Masks doesn’t follow any of those rules. Instead, the works in the group show are arranged according to a different system. They’re displayed according to the age of the artist starting with those who have died and then oldest to youngest.

The works have been displayed in such an unusual way because that’s the respectful approach toward elders in Palo Monte, Santeria, Ifá and Abakuá, four of the unique religions brought to Cuba by Africans.

The exhibition’s organization at the Museum of Anthropology relates directly to how contemporary Afro-Cuban artists have made work inspired by their own religious beliefs.

Cuba is the kind of place, said curator Orlando Hernandez, where you can believe in those four African religions and be a Roman Catholic and a Communist — all at the same time.

Clearly, religious belief operates in a much different way than in Cuba than it does in secular Canada. It’s difficult to imagine, for example, a contemporary artist working with religious imagery that would be taken seriously in this country.

The exhibition also explores the country’s complex racial issues which all relate to the influence of the descendants of black Africans on modern Cuba.

What’s jarring is the idea of racism in Cuba. It’s doesn’t fit with the stereotype of the country as an egalitarian if impoverished nation since Fidel Castro and his fellow Communists outlawed racism following the 1959 revolution. The reality, however, is much different, Hernandez said.

The racial differences became particularly acute in the 1990s when Cuba’s economy collapsed following the implosion of the Soviet Union, its main trading partner.

Exiles and family members living outside the country — mainly the U.S. — were able to send money back to help their relatives living in poverty in Cuba. But it turned out that those with whiter skins in Cuba fared much better because they had more relatives earning more money than their darker-skinned fellow Cubans.

After a series of exhibitions in Cuba drew attention the growing racial divide, a couple by the name of Chris and Marina von Christierson visited Cuba for the first time in 2007. Excited by the art scene, the South African couple met Hernandez and asked him to start collecting art that related both to their African origins and those of Cubans.

Full article at: Vancouver Sun

Exhibition view at Museum of Anthropology (MoA). 2014
Exhibition view at Museum of Anthropology (MoA). 2014
Exhibition view at Museum of Anthropology (MoA). 2014

Without Masks: Afro-Cuban art reveals the body at MoA

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