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¡CUBA!
A voyage through this Island’s Art and History, from 1868 to today
Catherine Guex, February 4, 2008
Los Carpinteros, Jewellery Case, 1999_Sean Kelley Gallery NY
Los Carpinteros, Jewellery Case, 1999_Sean Kelley Gallery NY
 
An interview with Nathalie Bondil, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ Director and Chief Curator of the exhibition

E.D.: How did this project come about?


Nathalie Bondil: In 2005, Stéphane Aquin and I accepted an invitation from the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the most important fine arts museum in Havana. Like many Canadians, I knew something of Cuba as a tourist and cultural destination, but the newly renovated Museo’s collections of Cuban art impressed me deeply. Given the Island’s situation, with influences from Europe, the Caribbean and North America, its art has greatly benefited from this rich influx of cultures. And yet, in just a hundred years, the Cuban school was able to build and assert its own unique identity. I love to travel and to encourage the public to discover other forms of culture; there has never been a major exhibition of Cuban art. Of course, and as always, it was achieved thanks largely to the high standards of the Museo team and the determination and energy of its remarkable director, Moraima Clavijo Colom; our enthusiasm and a good working relationship did the rest. An exhibition is also a human adventure.


Marcelo Pocolotti, The intellectual or The young intellectual, 1937_Rodolfo Martinez
Marcelo Pocolotti, The intellectual or The young intellectual, 1937_Rodolfo Martinez
 
E.D.: Why has Cuban art been ignored for so long?

N.B.:
There have been books about it, many written by major Cuban art historians and critics living in Cuba and abroad. However, for years the art was not really on the international circuit of major exhibitions, except for the contemporary work, which is some of the most interesting in the world today. Mounting an exhibition of this magnitude was only possible because of the wealth of the Cuban collections. The Island’s recent drive to develop tourism and in particular to promote their cultural heritage has encouraged initiatives like this one. But the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is not, of course, a showcase for advertising! Our common objective here was to present the art and artists of Cuba, working together in a spirit of mutual respect, open-mindedness and independence. As we know, Cuba has very rich culture; its literature and music are world famous. It was time to unveil the history of its art.

E.D.: Where do the works in the exhibition come from?

N.B.:
More than half of them are from Cuba. Most of the paintings and many of the works on paper belong to the Museo, which agreed to lend some works considered “national treasures” for the occasion. We are deeply indebted to them for this gesture. The Fototeca de Cuba has also been an important collaborator; their photographic holdings are truly incredible, and largely unpublished. The other works on display come from public and private collections, mostly in the United States. The MoMA has been very generous: since the 1940s, thanks to the foresight of their brilliant director Alfred Barr, up to their recent acquisitions of contemporary works, they have been interested in Cuban art. I must say that the lenders have been especially touched and happy to collaborate with us on this show. The passion for Cuban art transcends all borders.



Domingo Ramos, The flamboyant tree, 1949_Rodolfo Martinez
Domingo Ramos, The flamboyant tree, 1949_Rodolfo Martinez
 
E.D.: This is an exhibition of art, but of history as well?

N.B.:
Yes, a history of Cuba from the standpoint of the fine arts. We had to choose an angle from which to view 150 years of art: a comprehensive show like this must have a framework. Everyone knows the fascinating, turbulent history of Cuba; the Island’s development mirrors the major issues of the twentieth century: decolonization, the quest for a national identity, wars of independence and revolution, political utopias envisioned, the clashing ideologies, East versus West and North versus South. We know about these issues, they are part of our history too.

That is why the exhibition is structured around the rich photographic and documentary archives that record the history. These images, many as yet unpublished, some iconic, provide a timeline. The Cuban school of photography includes outstanding practitioners relatively unknown in the outside world, such as Blez and Arias, and celebrated photographers like Salas, Corrales and Korda… Their shots of the Revolution were published around the world!


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