On the Occasion of the opening of sin máscaras in Havana, Cuba.
There are few societies more rooted in Africa than Cuba. Despite its long history of colonial and latterly revolutionary rule, Cuba’s spiritual ties to Africa remain firmly intact. This is evidenced by the ubiquitous practice of African religion, por-trayed so prominently in its contemporary art.
My wife Marina and I first visited Cuba in 2007. We were immediately attracted to its African rhythms and colours, so easily recognised from our own African country of birth, South Africa. We had the good fortune to meet Orlando Hernández and his delightful wife Lucha. Orlando, a former curator at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and a prominent writer, art critic and researcher of Afro-Cuban religion, soon introduced us to the fascinating world of contemporary Afro-Cuban art. We discovered art which not only portrayed the longstanding influences of Africa on the religion and culture of Cuba, but also the problems and challenges Cuba has in common with that continent.
Thus, a new-found interest and collaboration was born which has enabled us and our family foundation, with Orlando’s expert guidance and Lucha’s practical facilitations, to assemble an important collection of Afro-Cuban contemporary art which now comprises over 450 worksby 39 artists – all achieved on a hand-shake!
What makes this exhibition important is that its focus goes deeper than many Afro-American art exhibitions. For it un masks and reveals certain fundamental truths of modern Cuban society which are not commonly known outside of Cuba. Hence the name “Without Masks” attributed to the exhibition and to the two that were staged before it.
The Collection was first successfully exhibited at the Jo- hannesburg Art Gallery in 2010 at the invitation of the City of Johannesburg, to coincide with the hosting of the World Cup Football Competition. On the second occasion, it was ex- hibited at the UBC Museum of Anthropology (MOA) in Vancouver in 2014 which was also well attended and reviewed and resulted in a subsequent art tour of Havana by a group of MOA members. The Collection has yet to be exhibited in the USA and it is my understanding that this is the first occasion an exhibition of this diversity, scale and content, is being staged in Cuba.
To mark the opening of this exhibition, we are delighted that four renowned academics in the field of African and Afro-American art have agreed to come to Havana and that Professor Robert Farris Thompson of Yale University will deliver the opening lecture. They, together with Cuban academics, the artists and the public, will participate in the opening programme of lectures, film screenings and con- versations related to the art on display and the themes it portrays.
This message is not complete without an expression of appreciation and praise for all the wonderful people we have worked with on this journey. These range from our curator and the artist themselves, to our friends of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and many others, all of whom have contributed so much – often with limited resources – to achieve this exhibition. What is on display is so much a result of your spirit, talent and resourcefulness.
My heartfelt thanks to you all.
Chris von Christierson
Watch Hill Foundation London