Curated by Flora Fairbairn, Elvis Fuentes and Gabriela Fernandez
Flora Fairbairn is a UK-based independent curator who has been visiting Cuba since 2009, having launched The Havana Cultura Visual Arts Project for Havana Club in 2010. The purpose of the initiative was to support young emerging Cuban artists, so over the years she has become very familiar with the Cuban contemporary art scene and has watched it explode over the last 8 years. At the 2009 Havana Biennial, Flora met the Cuban curator Elvis Fuentes who had recently curated the groundbreaking exhibition, Killing Time in New York. Over 80 artists featured in the exhibition, their work metaphorically recording some of the tensions in the cultural, social and political landscape of the preceding two decades, having been dismissed by the official discourse on the Island or stereotyped by narrow conceptions of identity. Flora invited Elvis to curate this exhibition, featuring up and coming Cuban artists of today, and ENDURANCE: Cuban Artists Today reflects on the circumstances of growing up in Cuba.
The majority of these artists are based in Cuba, the rest have since moved to the US.
In 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cuban government declared the beginning of a Special Period, a euphemism for an unprecedented economic and socio-political crisis. Food and basic commodities disappeared. Crimes skyrocketed. Prostitution made a forceful comeback as international tourism rose. Despair led thousands to leave the island for Miami on precarious rafts. Many died on the Stretch of Florida. Those who stayed in Cuba turned into resilient souls of a post-Soviet Cuba, a place of stubborn ruins and endurance, where people learned to assuage moral imperatives for the sake of survival.
For the past two decades, Cuban artists living and working on the island and abroad have been reflecting on these tough times. They belong to a generation borne out of a claim of resistance; the children of another resilient generation who’s sacrifice in the name of a utopian future, seemed to have vanished before their very eyes when the last Soviets left, and market-driven economies returned. They learned a story in which Americans and Westerners were bullying archenemies; yet were now welcome as life-savers in the form of collectors or tourists.
Cuban artists studied in art schools that are now in decay, but still provide students with a pathway towards hard currency and economic solvency. After decades of learning to make art out of thin air, they can now afford other mediums, but sometimes prefer to put them to the test. They speak the international language of art, yet their intention is to translate their unique experience of the end of history. They tell tales of loss, but also of endurance. As in other parts of the world, Cuban artists faced the dilemma of Endurance or Death! They picked endurance. Such qualities inform their works, and the art-making processes, either painting, sculpture, photography or performance. These works are survivors’ treasures, and they carry their inevitability. They are here to stay.
Flora Fairbairn is an art advisor and independent curator. With a background in architecture, she has been producing pop-up exhibitions in unusual non-gallery spaces for the past fifteen years. Flora has a reputation for discovering and launching the careers of some of the most exciting artists working in the UK today. She has worked with hundreds of artists, selling their work to a wide range of private and public collections around the world. Locations where Flora has curated shows include La Casa Encendida, Madrid, Somerset House and a derelict building at Kings Cross. She has been on the committee for the Future Contemporaries Group at the Serpentine Gallery, sits on the King’s Cross Central Arts Advisory Panel, and since 2008 she has been the creative advisor for Havana Cultura’s visual arts programme in Cuba.
Elvis Fuentes is an independent curator and art writer, based in New York City. Ph.D. Candidate in Art History at Rutgers University, he has served as curator at El Museo del Barrio, New York, the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, San Juan, and The Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, Havana. In 2005, Fuentes won the Grand Prix at the 26th International Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana. His exhibition, Caribbean: Crossroads of the World, held concurrently at three New York City museums, was hailed by critics from The New York Times and The Village Voice among the Best Shows of 2012. Fuentes is Fellow of the Mellon IDRF from SSRC (2015-2016). He has recently been appointed Chief Curator of San Juan Print Triennial 2019, Puerto Rico.
Gabriela M. Fernández is an independent curator, art writer, and expert in social communications, based in Havana and Santiago, Cuba. Graduated Magna Cum Laude in Art History from the University of Oriente (2010), where she taught as Adjunct Professor, Fernández served as curator at the Center for Visual Arts and Design, and the Rene Valdes Gallery, Caguayo Foundation for Monumental and Applied Art, Santiago. There she organized numerous individual and group exhibitions of contemporary artists from Cuba and abroad. She has also worked at the First Havana Biennial of Design (2016) from the National Office of Industrial Design (ONDI), Havana.
Fernández and Fuentes co-curated Autopia: Road Trips from the Cold War to the Present, held at Audre Love Gallery, Bakehouse Art Complex, Miami, November 2016-January 2017.