June 3, 2011
In 2002, the Bush administration prevented the Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum located in Pittsburgh, from bringing Cuban artists into the States to participate in an artistic show that explored the issue of race in Cuba known as “Cuba: The Artists in Residence”.
Nine years later, with the reinstating of more relaxed travel laws, the Mattress Factory has achieved what it set out to do almost a decade earlier and brought nine of the thirteen artists from Cuba to the States to platform the highly controversial and thematically complex show.
The exhibition is now bigger and bolder than the one originally planned in 2002 and has arrived in New York this month.
The show, which has been given the profound title “Queloides”, the name of the scars left on the skin of black slaves in Cuba in the mid-1900s, is no means exclusive to Cuban history.
The highly provocative show includes the works of Manuel Arenas, Juan Roberto Diago and Douglas Perez, and offer provocative takes on controversial issues including poverty, migration, overcrowding and insight into the pain and anguish many black migrants were exposed to during a highly disturbed epoch in Cuba’s history.
One of the exhibition’s particularly divisive pieces is “The Raft”, a sculpture by Armando Marino. The sculpture is of the empty body of a Plymouth in the 1950s with its wheels replaced by a forest of black legs.
Since the exhibition was first launched in Hanava in April last year, it has received mixed views. Much of the Cuban media decided to ignore “Queloides” due to the fact that racism in Cuba is considered a highly taboo subject.
Whilst other more ‘underground’ media outlets, warmly embraced the show, saying it “tore down prejudices through visual statements”.
Welcoming the exhibition’s unique take on racial equality, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote that the show was “not a ‘black project’ or a ‘project for blacks’, but a cultural project by a multiracial group of artists who share similar beliefs and concerns about racial justice and equality.”
The New York version of “Queloides” is being held at a venue owned by Donald and Shelley Rubin, who, in 1995, established the Rubin Foundation from personal wealth to “support innovative efforts to make social organisations and institutions more effective and more responsive to a broad range of social needs.”
The “Queloides” exhibition is certainly in-keeping with the couple’s interest in Cuban art and their commitment to promoting social justice through artistic ventures.