What comes immediately after Castro’s coup, and into the ’60s and ’70s—a period that saw the radicalization of the new regime toward Marxist Socialism, as Antonio Eligio Fernández (Tonel) notes in the exhibition’s doorstep of a catalogue—are intensely romantic images of the revolution, as well as a contrary strain of increasingly satirical and critical art.
’s La Caballería (Cavalry)
(1960), a triumphant, soaring image of mounted revolutionaries waving Cuban flags (a staged scene) is contrasted with an image like José A. Figueroa’s Olga
(1967), which quietly illustrates the personal cost of Castro’s authoritarian regime. The photograph shows a woman far-off on an airport runway, seen through waving hands in the foreground—the artist bidding his mother goodbye as she left for the United States in 1967, shortly after Cuba established its alliance with the Soviet Union. (It would be 12 years before he saw her again
.) It’s a picture tinged with the heartbreak of what so many in Cuba have suffered throughout the second half of the 20th century—what the catalogue calls “the massive exile and division of the Cuban family.”
Elsewhere in the exhibition, the most revelatory works offer a damning or deeply troubled perspective on the country through the deconstruction of its idols and symbols. Most of these come after Cuba’s so-called “Five-Year Gray Period” in the ’70s, when the government encouraged and sponsored art through state-run schools and issued aesthetic edicts—falling shy of imposing an official canon, as the Soviet bloc did. This critical strain of work accrued momentum during and after the emergence of the New Cuban Art of the 1980s, when artists who had grown up in the revolution became increasingly disenchanted with it.
(Later, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which delivered a blow to Cuba’s already strained economy, government cultural policies once again tightened and many artists emigrated abroad, ultimately leading to the more international dialogue around Cuban art that exists today.)