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.