MOA opens a window into the lives and struggles of Cubans of African descent in its new exhibition Without Masks: Contemporary Afro-Cuban Art. This remarkable exhibition has assembled a diverse group of 31 Cuban contemporary artists devoted to two fascinating themes: on the one hand an insight into contemporary Afro-Cuban cultural and religious traditions and, on the other, an intense dialogue on the complex racial issues affecting the country today.
“MOA is a place of both historic and contemporary world arts and culture; an institution where Vancouver’s residents and visitors can develop an understanding and appreciation of the complexities of our global community,” says Nuno Porto, Curatorial Liaison for Without Masks. “Without Masks gives us opportunities to broaden our understanding of issues of global concern, such as racism today. The Afro-Cuban struggle for recognition and social equity in contemporary Cuba resonate with challenges faced by communities all over the world, including here.”
Orlando Hernández, formerly of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, curated Without Masks following his own rigorous criteria. Focusing beyond aesthetic, the exhibit favours originality and the profoundness of the works’ sociological, historical, anthropological, religious, ethical and political messages.
“There is a very strong African tradition in Cuba. We inherited many religious practices from Africa — Palo Monte, Santeria, Ifá, Abakuá — and there are a lot of Cubans of direct or mixed African descent,” says Hernández. “In Without Masks we seek to make new and deeper studies of those cultural, aesthetic, symbolic and religious legacies that we share and take for granted, without forgetting that we have received them from black sub-Saharan Africa.”
For Without Masks, Hernández has curated a powerful collection of artworks representing a cross-section of Afro-Cuban artists — from the internationally renowned to street and folk artists. The exhibition features 31 artists showing a total of 85 works (from the 146 which at present comprise the whole collection) spanning a range of media including painting on canvas and wood, watercolour, drawing, printing (xylography, silk-screen, calligraphy), collage, patchwork, installation, soft-sculpture, photography, video-installation and video art.
All the works in the exhibition are drawn from the von Christierson Collection. Chris and Marina von Christierson, themselves South African, first visited Cuba in 2007 and were drawn to the country and its art. During this visit they met Orlando Hernández and established a collaboration with him to develop a collection of Afro-Cuban art that would show the multiple imprints of Africa in Cuba’s artistic culture. The collection was first exhibited at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2010 during the FIFA World Cup. The collection is held by the family’s Watch Hill Foundation, a not-for-profit charitable organization.