Although many artists have since emigrated from Cuba to live and work abroad, Adiós Utopia focuses on the untold narrative of those who remained in Cuba and whose careers emerged or who were educated on the island after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. The exhibition is divided into five thematic clusters, rather than chronological order, including “Sea, Borders and Exile” and “Inverted Utopias, Lost Illusions.” It was very special exhibition for Walker Art Center because the director of Walker Art Center, Olga Viso, herself is a Cuban American whose parents were Cuban exiles.
As a person who has grown up with going to European or Asian art exhibition for most of my life, Cuban art was a new realm to me. I thought this exhibition would be a great opportunity for me to explore and learn more about how Cuban artists tried to express their frustration on their home country through arts.
<Lázaro Saavedra,El sagrado corazón ><Glexis Novoa, “Sin titulo, de la Etapa practica”>
In order to understand the symbolic meaning behind these paintings, we need to have some background information on Cuban history after 1950s. The Cuban Revolution of 1959, which overtuned the military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, represents one of the most transformative social revolutions of the 20th century. At that time, Fidel Castro was a 33-year-old activist lawyer and he led the movement aiming to build classless society with centralized economic system. But this Utopian idea from Fidel Castro soon turned out to be short-lived; the movement’s progress was tempered by factors ranging from autocratic leadership and economic catastrophe to political isolation. During this dark time, free-speech was limited and, of course, these art works were not permitted to present in public in Cuba.
With this background information, for example, the third picture from the above, the lighthouse with Fidel Castro face is looking at the red sky with the Soviet Union star while the lighthouse is located in the dark night world.
In the first picture,El sagrado corazón (The Sacred Heart), there is a figure of Jesus. The Jesus is talking about Soviet Union ideology while he is actually thinking of US capitalism represented by US flag. But the core of his heart is Cuban.
In the exhibition, there is an installation art called Apolítico by Wilfredo Prieto. As you can see in this picture, there are 45 flags recognized by United Nations without color as it you are in black-and-white movies. The artist stripped the flags of their familiar colors, creating abstract and egalitarian versions.
<Alexis Leyva Machado (Kcho), Obras Escogidas>
A boat made of books illustrates the knowledge that left the island with the exiles.
<The picture of a boy fleeing from the country by swimming>
Five years ago, ‘Adiós Utopia’ would have seemed like an impossible exhibition; it might again today. In July 2014, Barack Obama announced a détente with the government of Raúl Castro, after more than half a century of cold war freeze. The Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, in partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Walker Art Center, took the sudden opening to negotiate a major loan of post-revolutionary artworks from the Cuban government. Art is a singular diplomat. By the time the exhibition opened in Houston, however, the next US President had reversed the thaw; most of the loans were withdrawn. Nevertheless, the remaining selection offers a broad survey of the development of a dynamic.