What is it like to be an artist in Cuba?
Raul Corrales, Cuba’s most famous photographer, is now in his seventies. In his little house in Cojimar, he passed around the photos he had taken of Fidel and Che Guevara, and of his neighbor, Ernest Hemingway, and told us about the real old man of the sea.
Jose Fuster, a painter calling himself the “Picasso of the Caribbean,” has created a mosaic wonderland of his home and yard in a suburb of Havana. One huge wall pays homage to Cuba’s greatest writers, but as you follow it outside you are also celebrating the lives of his neighbors with mosaic archways greeting you in front of each house with the first name of its owners and some of their favorite things.
Thanks to professors David Craven and Fernando Maresma and UNM’s Latin American Institute, all this was made possible by a class called The Art of Cuba, in which twenty-four students lived and breathed Cuban art in the sultry air of Havana during the week of October 31 to November 8, 2003.
Never before had I gotten off the plane in a foreign country and literally stepped into the homes and studios of some of its most famous artists. And this was not just any country; this was Cuba! As a printmaker, I was honored to walk the streets of Havana with Fremez, who was showing me his print shop and his latest work. His serigraphs, made famous in the seventies, are now collectors’ items and are hallmarks of the political and cinematic posters revealing Cuba’s identity in the sixties.
In his heavy Cuban dialect and with his perpetual cigar, Fremez told me many things about Cuba, which he lovingly refers to as “our little experiment.” As we walked through La Habana Vieja (Old Havana), toward the Taller de Gráfica Experimental (Workshop of Experimental Graphics), of which he was the director for ten years, Havana’s affection for this man was evident in the faces and words of the many people who greeted him.
These were priceless experiences with legendary Cuban artists, whose art has helped define the Cuban identity, and whose modest dwellings and attire have made them living models of the idea of the classless society.
During our visit, we attended a showing and discussion of recent Cuban films, visited museums and art schools, and watched a performance by the famous Cuban ballet, but our main focus was the Havana Biennale! The title of this eighth international art exposition was “El Arte con la Vida,” or “Art with Life.” Feeling the mixture of life and art was not difficult as the streets of Havana became alive with collaborative exhibitions in seventy-five hotels, libraries, galleries, and museums throughout the city. Performance and installation art were housed at the Havana Pabellon (pavilion) and at a beautiful seventeenth-century fort, Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabana, with visual art and nightly musical performances taking place at the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam.
The Biennale had been postponed from 2002 to 2003 because of serious financial problems in Cuba, namely the withdrawal of major support from the European Union in protest of the heavy prison sentences imposed on seventy-five Cubans who were organizing toward the democratization of Cuba. Even though their finances did not improve, the Cuban government decided to have the Biennale out of a sense of moral obligation. They organized it with a minimum budget, especially when compared to the fifty or so biennales now held around the world.
With participating artists from forty-seven countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and North America, the Havana Biennale is well known not only as a showcase of Cuban art but as a venue for the lesser-known artistic expressions of the Third World. It is also special in that it is not just an international exhibit but also includes lectures, panel discussions, and workshops. As we arrived for the inauguration, we were told that two to three thousand foreign artists, gallery owners, and collectors would be part of the spectators of this event held between October 31 and December 15, and that many would return home with treasured works for an ever increasing market of Cuban art.
In Cuba, all businesses are owned by the state. The money collected in restaurants, hotels, etc. is part of state revenues, with individuals receiving salaries and enough food commodities for one half month. Cuba now relies on tourism as its major source of income. Cuban art and the artists who produce it are aware of the huge revenues that can be possible with the sale of their art. Artists keep 50 percent of the sale price of their work, with 50 percent going to the government. What does the government do with the money? If you are an art student in Cuba, and you pass the entrance exam, your education will be paid for over a span of twelve years, culminating in a five year study at the Instituto Superior de Arte (Graduate Institute of Art), which was created in 1976 and provides a one-to-seven faculty-student ratio.
I visited the Union de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba), a beautiful three-story stone building. Like all of the regulating institutions of Cuban life and culture, it was housed in one of the beautiful historical mansions of Havana that became state property after the revolution.
According to some Cuban art critics, the potential for exposure to the world market is becoming more of an influence on the work that is being created. Cuban art is promoting and projecting its own identity successfully in the face of international art trends. Some of this identity includes references to Santeria, a Cuban popular religion that unites Christianity with religion of Yoruban origin, On the practical side, this identity also includes the extremely creative uses of limited materials, often recycled materials. This lack of materials is a constant problem for artists and was further exacerbated by to the withdrawal of Russian economic support in the nineties, creating a mass exodus of Cuban artists and other citizens.
So, are the ideals of the Cuban revolution working? With every moment of my visit, I felt the tensions between the ideology and the reality of Cuban life. Despite the government’s efforts, Cuba seems to be gradually shifting from socialism to a free-market economy. “Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing,” stated Castro in his famous speech to the intellectuals in 1961. Is this true? Perhaps this is now the question haunting every artist in Cuba today.
Julianna Kirwin invites you to visit the Julianna Kirwin Studio/Gallery in Bernalillo and see pictures from her recent trip to Cuba.
Katrina Lasko works in her studio using wood, lead, and wire to create a conceptual piece tentatively titled Entanglement. One of her paintings hangs on the wall behind her.
Lasko offers contemplation through art
Even as a child, gallery owner Katrina Lasko knew she would dedicate her life to art.
She just didn’t know it would be in Bernalillo.
“Art has always been my life,” Lasko said. “I never thought of doing anything else.”
While studying sculpture, painting, and photography at the University of Nevada, however, she recognized the difficulty of eking out a living dependent on the fickle tastes of the art-buying public. Instead she landed art-related jobs as a graphic designer and photography instructor, work that continued when she moved to New Mexico sixteen years ago.
A part-time job teaching photography at the College of Santa Fe lasted six years, but Lasko still holds her part-time position as photographer and graphic designer at the School of American Research.
Over the years her crumbling adobe north of Bernalillo High School expanded by a thousand square feet of studio and living space until she found herself rattling around in the building.
“I started feeling really weird about having such a big space,” the Signpost January Artist of the Month said. “I had the house on the market for a year, but nobody wanted it.
“I guess I’m supposed to stay here, so I needed to figure out something to do.”
Part of the answer was renting an outbuilding to a massage therapist. The rest came with the June 2002 opening of the Katrina Lasko Gallery.
Like the Arte Loca Gallery across the street, Lasko’s gallery promotes Bernalillo as an art destination and avoids polite landscapes and quiet hang-over-the-sofa paintings to showcase artists with a point of view.
“We’re both dealing in art that’s not easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good work,” Lasko said. “I select people with real vision and clear ideas of what they’re doing.”
That’s consistent with Lasko’s own paintings and constructions that are replete with layers of meaning. Childhood sketching of birds and horses remains a recurring theme often symbolizing the freedom of spirit.
In one work, entitled Before the Darkness, from her “Catholic Girl” series, a three-dimensional horse wrapped in cloth hovers above a photo self-portrait colored in oil and draped with a painted rubber snake. In this piece, the wrapped horse represents the Holy Ghost.
“You can see the figure, but it’s concealed,” she said.
Like many artists who came of age during the Vietnam War, Lasko says her early work tended to be angry and obvious. Over the years the message may not have mellowed, but the medium has become subtler,” she said.
“I personally like art that makes you think,” Lasko added.
The current show at her gallery through January 31 features forty artists and is titled “A Bunch of Artists; A Lot of Art; a Great Show.” A Valentine show, “Essential or Erotic,” opens with a reception on February 7.
The Katrina Lasko Gallery at 336 North Camino del Pueblo is open Fridays and Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and by appointment by calling 867-2523. Lasko’s work also can be seen on-line in color by visiting the Signpost Featured Artist page.
Willy Sucre & Friends play Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms
PAS Board of Directors
Beautiful music will be heard again in the foothills of Placitas on Sunday, January 25, at 3:00 p.m. The Placitas Artists Series is presenting music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, performed by Willy Sucre and Friends. Willy at viola will be joined by violinist Sarah Johnson and pianist Eric Larsen to play Mozart’s Duo for Violin and Viola in G Major (K. 423), the Sonata for Violin and Piano #8 in G Major by Beethoven (op. 30#3), and the Brahms Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 40.
Sucre has served as conductor and music director of the Albuquerque Philharmonic Orchestra and assistant conductor of the Canada Symphony Orchestra and the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. Johnson has performed as a concert artist, as a soloist with orchestra, and in recital and provides educational programs in school and community settings. She was described as “violinist extraordinaire. . .with an artistry that was rare and remarkable” on her recent tour in Brazil. Larsen has performed in all the major New York concert halls, and is best known in New York for his retrospective concerts of Beethoven, Brahms. and Ravel. He is in demand nationally and internationally for both solo piano and chamber-music master classes.
The concert will be held at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church, six miles east of I-25 on NM 165 (Exit 242). There will be an artists’ reception at the church before the concert. This month’s featured artists are Nina Adkins, Karl and Mary Hofmann, Marge Larson, and Dianna Shomaker.
Adkins has been deeply influenced by the colors and mountains of the Southwest. Her love of color and the Southwest are evident in her paintings. The Hofmanns have traveled extensively, which brings many influences to their pottery. The influence of the Southwest landscape is clearly seen in their works. Larson paints sometimes what she sees and sometimes what emerges from the canvas. She likes to try new things and not get too serious with her art. Shomaker is a member of the board of the Placitas Artists Series and has responsibility for the visual art programs in the series. She enjoys drawing and traditional painting, but most recently the thrill of an artistic experiment readily captures her attention. She draws heavily on her life experiences and travels for source materials. View samples of all of the artists’ work on the Placitas Artists Series Web site at www.PlacitasArts.org.
Tickets for the concert will be available at the door one hour before the performance, or may be purchased ahead of time at La Bonne Vie Salon and Day Spa in the Homestead Village Shopping Center in Placitas (867-3333). Tickets may also be purchased on line. The prices for this concert are $15 for general admission and $12 for seniors and students. For additional information and ticket brochures, call 867-8080 or visit the Web site.
This concert and the visual art exhibit are made possible in part by New Mexico Arts, a division of the Office of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts. There is handicapped access and free childcare for children under six.
Chamber Music Albuquerque to sponsor Thibaud Trio encore
Even in tuxedos, the three young Germans who make up the Jacques Thibaud Trio look like members of a rock band. Their passionate style of play, without a music stand in sight, does nothing to dispel the notion.
Those who heard the trio in their Albuquerque debut three years ago know what to expect: “Mozart and Beethoven played to perfection,” according to Bruce Barber, chairman of Chamber Music Albuquerque’s artistic committee. The organization, which sponsored the trio’s first Albuquerque appearance in 2001, is bringing the group back for its Winter Weekend Festival on January 9, 10, and 11, 2004. Events include two formal concerts and a free family concert on Saturday afternoon.
The festival’s guest artist, twenty-one-year-old American pianist Orion Weiss, will join the trio on Friday, January 9, and Sunday, January 11. The trio and Weiss present two different programs, on Friday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m., in the Simms Center for the Performing Arts at Albuquerque Academy. A preconcert lecture will be given one hour before each concert, by Dan Davis on Friday and Dan Haik on Sunday.
Between the formal concerts, on Saturday at 2:00 p.m., the trio will present a free family concert at the South Broadway Cultural Center.
Chamber Music Albuquerque’s family concerts last about an hour and serve as a gateway to the world of classical music. The Jacques Thibaud Trio’s family concert during their previous visit to Albuquerque delighted the audience with humor as well as musicianship. They play brief excerpts from well-known pieces, followed by a question-and-answer period during which the they promise to answer “any and all questions,” musical or otherwise.
Tickets to the Friday and Sunday concerts may be purchased from Chamber Music Albuquerque on-line at www.cma-abq.org, by phone at 505-268-1990 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, or at the door. Ticket prices are from $15 to $32 with students half price. The Saturday family concert is free and requires no tickets.