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Queens Chronicle

Revolution yields evolution in Cuban artworks

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Posted: Thursday, November 7, 2019 10:30 am

The irony of tyranny is that a population repressed is, eventually, a population expressed. What is squashed, explodes.

The “Arte Cubano” exhibit at the Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College reveals this cyclical inevitability with works as diverse and passionate as the artists themselves. Cuba’s Latin, European and Afro-Caribbean influences are interwoven throughout the over 25 pieces featured in this intensely immersive collection of a creative rebellion against political and environmental restriction.

“As a resource for students, we want our students to look at the exhibition and arts as their home,” said Maria Rhor, co-director of the Godwin-Ternbach Museum.

“Noche Tranquila”/”Quiet Night” by Enrique Martinez Celaya is a cast bronze sculpture of a man’s head resting on its side. It presents both an image of peace and unrest, weariness with a moment of relief that maybe can only be found in unconsciousness and dreams, a hard-won few hours of respite; the appearance of peace with a hidden reality. The skull detail combines aching realism with the added impact of solidity and massive size, and the quality is so palpable it’s easy to imagine the head would be warm to the touch.

“Constellation,” also by Martinez Celaya, is a lone statue rendered in bronze, nude, arms at its sides, staring into space with the quality of someone exposed yet comfortably aware of it, a presence in silence.

“Memorianas”/”Memories” by Roberto Fabelos brings thoughts to life in human form, showing an elegantly half-dressed and partially exposed woman with a pair of folded wings showing a kneeling winged female angel on top of her head. It lends great visual credence to the saying that thoughts are things.

“Pinocho y NapolÈon Cuentan la Historia”/”Pinnochio and Napoleon Tell the Story,” by renowned sculptor Esterio Segura, reveals the iconic fairy tale wooden boy, in plated cast bronze, in full-on lying mode with a lance-like nose jutting up and out high above the exhibit floor, essentially vaulting across the room. Cast bronze feet bending tellingly inward, he stands on stacks of books. One of the titles reads “Killing the Truth,” a blunt testament to malignant censorship. “Throughout history, the truth has always been manipulated many different ways,” Segura says.

“Sin Titulo”/”Untitled” by Kcho (Alexis Leiva Machado) is rendered in oil and charcoal on canvas. Kcho distinctively is the first Cuban artist to make direct artistic references to the dangerously fragile boats people have used attempting to escape the island. The dominant engulfing blue of the house and ocean reflects Kcho’s life growing up by the water sailing and fishing.

“Relajarse”/”Relax” by Yoan Capote Puentes brings metal, leather and shells together to form surreal headphones made to hear the ocean and all of nature. It beckons to the viewer to find solace in nature by using an auditory vehicle of it. It also invokes the popular island saying “Every Cuban is a mechanic.”

“Hybrid of Chrysler” by Esterio Segura is an aerovehicular symbol of resistance against enforced limitations. Plane wings attached to a vintage 1953 Chrysler limousine create a multifaceted, multicapable freedom launch and (with enough space!) it’s driveable. Tangibly illustrating the impact of tyranny on art, Segura had to rebuild the machine in the U.S. because he could only take the wings from his native Havana.

Lidzie Alvisa’s “Traps of the Interior” shows rows of pins embedded into a woman’s bare back. The focus is keenly on a uniquely female kind of pains, sewn into the prison of gender, self and circumstances, living on pins and needles as a way of inner life. Throughout history, the naked female body has always reflected, shaped, begun and ended cultural trends, while birthing laws and rules in both the service of and detriment to women like no other.

These and the other artists featured in “Arte Cubano” shine light into the darkness of oppression and economic struggle by revealing how those whose lives are shaped by it also transcend and transform it through their talent, authenticity and passion.

‘Arte Cubano’
When: Through Thu., Feb. 20, 2020
Where: Godwin-Ternbach Museum, Queens College, 65-30 Kissena Blvd., Flushing
Entry: Free. (718) 997-4747,

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