The neat and tidy brick box trimming a street corner in Miramar is rather like a present wrapped in brown paper packaging — its true beauty is revealed only by delving inside this 1958 listed building by Cuban architect Mario Romañach,
Sheltering inside the quirky building is Studio 7 y 60, an emerging collective of four Cuban artists, who work independently but who’ve joined forces on promotion and networking.
María Cienfuegos is a photographer with a background in the arts and science. She’s turned her lens on the Cuban family as well as taxidermically enhanced Cuban wildlife.
In an a nod to the best traditions of Henri Cartier Bresson and Martin Parr, she’s photographed Cuban family groups at weddings, baptisms, and all of a clutter on the beach at Havana’s sandy playground, Playas del Este, with the paraphernalia of the beach — towels, umbrellas and flip flops tucked into the scene.
“I’ve always been interested in photography and the pose. I like the idea of how people pose. The racial composition is interesting too, and also the idea of the extended family — as when families gathered for a portrait on the beach they roped in friends as well so it challenged the idea of what is and isn’t a family,” she said.
Artist Alex Hernández’ paintings reflects his interest in the relationship between Cuba and the US through separated families, homes and rooms (most of his family left Cuba in the 1980 Mariel exodus when more than 100,000 Cubans legally left the island on thousands of boats).
“I’m interested in different life perspectives and compare homes in Havana with homes in America — including my own family’s homes — with a focus on furniture.”
Hernández has also focused on people’s idea of luxury and family desires in a series called Status Symbols and Confort.
“My idea has been to transplant Florida into Cuba with pools and 1950s villas. This work isn’t political but at the bottom of this idea is what people want. Nothing has changed after 50 years; people still want a house with a pool and a villa with a garden.”
His paintings of the sharp lines of conventional swimming pools contrast beautifully with the soft lines of sun-dappled water.
It’s taken a while for artist Frank Mujica to find his groove. But by doodling at night during his art school days, he was drawn to sketching landscapes — but with reference to the cultural construction of those landscapes.
“If you look at 19th-century pictures of Cuban landscape, the landscape is in the mind, it’s not real,” he explained.
I think of the famous Cuban 19th-century landscape painter Esteban Chartrand whose canvases depict fecund scenes of tropical vegetation in beautiful late afternoon tropical light.
Referring to some of these colonial landscape painters, Frank said:
“Their paintings are a cultural construction so I, too, realised I could construct my own Cuban landscape.
“Each time I go out, I look for a different perspective. I’m conscious of all the references to landscape art but I try and break with tradition while maintaining a link to that tradition. Some of my drawings show pines — I draw pines because people are conditioned to see palms.”
Mujica’s exquisite drawings are carefully flecked with pencil lines. The monochrome sketches are small, beautifully rendered and alluring. There’s an ethereal beauty about them which surprises. How is it possible that hardy tropical grass, ungainly hills, and tufty bracken, branches and bark — all devoid of colour — can look so winsome and so delicate?
Adrián Fernández photographs interiors and his stand-out portfolio of work is To Be or To Pretend. In this series Fernández has captured the wondrously kitsch Cuban aesthetic of gathered plastic flowers and fruit and elevated them to an art form with large digital photographic images of studio still lifes: Cuban vases and clutches of arranged plastic flowers are set against vivid, patterned cloths or subtly blended patterns, to offset the arrangement. Number 7 is my favourite: http://www.cubartspace7y60.com/cubanart/adrian/photography/to-be-or-to-pretend-series followed by No 13.
Fernández explained: “I wanted to revisit still life and these images — of cloths, plastic fruit, flowers and vases — as they are part of our cultural tradition.”