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News . Feature Stories . CIA to Host Five Cuban Artists


September 01, 2011

CIA to Host Five Cuban Artists

Cleveland Foundation-funded residencies will spark year-long cultural exchange

Despite 50 years of strained relations between their national governments, Cubans and Clevelanders will exchange ideas freely over the coming year, when the Cleveland Institute of Art hosts five contemporary Cuban artists for eight-week residencies.

Thanks to generous funding from the Cleveland Foundation through its Creative Fusion initiative, CIA is launching The Cuba Project, bringing these artists to Cleveland to live, teach, create, share, and learn. Each artist will spend approximately half of a semester in residence at CIA and participate in a one-day public symposium.

“This residency program will offer the entire Cleveland community wonderful opportunities to connect with Cuban people who are creating artwork and conveying ideas about a culture that is not well known in the USA,” said CIA President Grafton J. Nunes. “We are enormously grateful to the Cleveland Foundation for making these enriching exchanges possible.”

According to Assistant Professor Lane Cooper, CIA’s visiting artist coordinator, the artists will conduct workshops for CIA students, visit students’ studio spaces, and critique their work; they will create their own work in dedicated CIA studio space; give talks to students in Cleveland public high schools with which CIA already collaborates; and present community talks at galleries, libraries, and other public venues in addition to the two mid-semester symposia. Artworks from all five artists are on view in a collaborative exhibition at MOCA Cleveland. The Cuba Project: Cleveland Institute of Art at MOCA runs through Dec. 31.

The Lineup

Installation artist/sculptor Abel Barroso will be CIA’s first Cuban artist-in-residence, arriving in mid-October and staying until mid-December. Printmaker Osmeivy Ortega will overlap with Barroso, arriving in early October and staying through early December. Painter and video artist Alex Hernández will be in residence from early January through early March. He will overlap with the collaborative husband-wife team of painter/installation artist José Ángel Toirac and art historian Meira Marrero, who will be in residence from early February through the end of March.

In panel discussions featuring the guest artists, and presentations by guest scholars, the fall and spring symposia will air critical ideas on Cuban culture, including Cuba’s unique ethnic, racial, and religious mixtures; poverty and shortages; Cuba’s place in a global context; and the contrasts between institutionalized notions of a national society and the realities lived by Cuba’s citizens. Alejandro de la Fuente, author and University of Pittsburg professor, will be the guest scholar at the the October 13, 2011 symposium; while Rachel Weiss, author and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, will be the guest scholar at the Feb. 11, 2012 symposium.

Bridging Cultures and Generations

One element that will distinguish CIA’s Cuban artist residencies from similar residencies held across the country is that the visits are timed so that mid-career Cuban artists — those who established themselves in the 1980s and 1990s — will overlap at CIA with emerging Cuban artists. Professor David Hart, a contemporary art scholar who has written about Cuban art, said he expects that having both emerging and established artists participate in the symposia will spark some interesting dialog.

Hart, who is faculty coordinator of the Cuba Project along with Cooper, learned about a generation gap of sorts in the Cuban art world when he and two other CIA faculty members — Associate Professors Saul Ostrow and Charles Tucker — traveled to Cuba in the fall of 2010 looking for candidates for the CIA residencies. Funded by an initial planning from grant from the Cleveland Foundation, the three faculty members interviewed 44 Cuban artists in their own studios.

“We were surprised to observe that Cuban artists don’t necessarily identify with a particular school or movement, but instead distinguish themselves by generation. Younger artists tend to respond to Cuban culture and social conditions somewhat differently than do artists whose careers were established in the 1980s and 1990s,” he said.

Hart, Ostrow and Tucker were not necessarily looking for representation from two different generations of Cuban artists when they began their interviews last fall. “We were looking for artists with a record of socially responsive work, the desire and qualifications to teach in a school of art and design, and the ability to engage with the community and local institutions,” said Hart.

Creative Fusion of Art, Culture and Ideas

The Cleveland Foundation established Creative Fusion as a multi-year initiative to bring accomplished artists from diverse cultures to Cleveland for extended periods of time. These artists are “embedded within existing cultural institutions to facilitate the exchange of ideas and experiences,” according to the Foundation. In its first year, the program hosted a dancer, two visual artists, writers and a playwright/director from Turkey and South Africa.

Kathleen Cerveny ’69, the foundation’s director, institutional learning and arts initiatives, said “Many cultural institutions are passionate about world cultures but rarely have the resources to host international artists for more than one performance or exhibition. Creative Fusion permits a deeper engagement at the artistic level and a richer, more lasting impact on our community through extended engagements and frequent interaction.

“We believe Creative Fusion is unique among artist residency programs because each residency is a community partnership requiring collaboration and because residencies can be crafted to suit the missions of host organizations. The program is meaningful both for the artists and the organizations that host them,” Cerveny added.

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