Art Gallery Explores America Through Cuban Eyes

By Kristopher Charles.
"386" by Jairo Alfonso. Watercolor, pencil on paper. It is a drawing of 386 objects representing the US desire to consume.

“386” by Jairo Alfonso. Watercolor, pencil on paper. It is a drawing of 386 objects representing the US desire to consume.

“Cuban America: An Empire State of Mind” at the Lehman Art Gallery looks at the United States through the lenses of those of Cuban descent.

Various artworks encompassing a variety of media, genres and styles are on display at the exhibition. Some of the works are sculptures. There are also portraits that address themes of identity as well as abstract works.

The exhibition was put together by Director of the Art Gallery Susan Hoeltzel and Curatorial Assistant Yuneikys Villalonga.

“A lot of people are curious about Cuba and Cuban artists so it seemed like a natural [idea],” said Hoeltzel.

“There are many exhibitions on Cuban art these days all over the place,” said Villalonga, who is Cuban and who worked as an independent art curator in La Havana. “Cuba is fashionable.”

“We thought it would be a good idea to include artists who were not only born in Cuba, but also in the States,” said Villalonga. “The show is not about Cuban subjects. The subject in this show is America.”

"a mighty good reason" by Emilio Perez. Acrylic and latex on wood panel.

“a mighty good reason” by Emilio Perez. Acrylic and latex on wood panel.

“People don’t know [that] many of the names that we are showing are connected to Cuban art. Most of the artists we are showing here exhibit with American artists,” said Villalonga. “We wanted to establish a dialogue and broaden the concept of what could be considered ‘Cuban.’”

Artist Emilio Perez, born in 1972 in New York to Cuban parents, features his artwork titled “a mighty good reason,” an abstract featuring a fluid, swirling, whirlpool of grey, pink, and dark blues that brings to mind the violent winds of a tropical storm.

“I’ve always been inspired by nature,” said Perez about his work which is mostly produced in an art studio in Brooklyn. “I try to do something between painting and drawing.”

“I don’t plan my paintings out ahead of time because I want them to really have as much spontaneity and as much of a personality that a two dimensional object that doesn’t move can have,” said Perez.

Artist Jairo Alfonso, born in Cuba in 1974 who moved to Madrid in 2010 and recently settled in New York, is also featuring a piece in the exhibition.

“My recent work explores the symbolic nature of everyday objects and how they characterize – from an anthropological perspective – a generation, a civilization,” said Alfonso about his work. He said that his latest drawings are inspired by the Diogenes Syndrome, a psychological condition where people amass objects and withdraw from society.

“The drawing at Lehman College [is] 140 x 200 cm and it was drawn with watercolor pencil on paper,” Alonso said about his piece. “It is an accumulation of 386 objects drawn with their real sizes. ‘386’ is therefore the title of this piece in which some objects related to the life and cultural context of USA can be found.” Some instantly recognizable objects in the work range from a Remington typewriter to a Macintosh mousepad.

“This country is always evolving. I think the pace of that evolution has picked up much more than 50 or 70 years ago,” said the curator Hoeltzel. “Everybody is trying to figure out what it all means.”

The exhibition runs until May 14. It is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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