The newspapers and television programs in Cuba focus mainly on the past. What happened 50 years ago is, strangely enough, present in media today. This immediately feeds into your first impression of Havana, where cars, conversations and general lifestyle echo those good old years of the 1950s. Here, the sense of novelty relies on a recent aperture to the world: the Internet.
Cuba does have WiFi, but it is harshly limited. It is patrolled by the government, some keywords are blocked and you have to pay 2 CUC (equivalent to €2) for a one-hour connection. Can this in fact be beneficial for an artist? Centuries ago, artists who created magnificent pieces lived without the distractions that are now inevitable in most of the world. Cubans still don’t face this problem, so they have time to focus on their inner selves.
Many of the current trends in art and music are influenced by the internet, whether by going with or against it. Artists use it for self-promotion, networking, researching, creating… But in a world where gaining recognition comes from social media exposure and inspiration is fuelled by our modern way of communication, how do the Cuban artists make it? What if they want to get an equal chance at international recognition and be able to tell their story? Will they have to wait for an art dealer to suddenly enter their studio/gallery/home to discover them?
This patronage that the Cuban artists need is supposedly given by the government. One of the main issues for artists on the island, though, is the lack of many basic supplies like paint, canvas, and most importantly: freedom of speech. The latter makes it difficult for those who want to communicate ideas that don’t sympathise with the ones from the Revolución. And when this happens, new barriers, as if the existing ones weren’t enough, start to rise up.
Artists in Cuba have developed – like in any other industry in the country – the “collaborative” system. If you approach an artist, depending on the level and prestige he or she has, she will end up recommending some other friend’s work as well. Artists help each other. They take advantage whenever a curator or art buyer stumbles upon their art, or shows intentions to approach them.
Upon visiting the studio of the artist Ernesto Villanueva in Havana, I was surprised by his travelling stories, his success outside of Cuba. This is not a common thing for Cubans – most of them haven’t even imagined themselves outside of the country. In fact, for years their main access to foreign movies, music and trends is through the “weekly package” – a collection of digital material distributed illegally by USB and pen drives. Most of the emerging artists have a limited access to books and information on artist movements and ideas from former decades. They know what the government allows them to know.
This is what puts Cuban artists in such a unique position. They have what we could consider a mind almost untouched by technological globalisation, unspoiled by the supersaturation and overexposure that the internet carries, but at the same time a mind filled with dogmatic ideology and old ideas. While facing everyday struggles to even produce their work, they are on a constant quest for alternative ways to gain international exposure, which the outside world has in abundance – an abundance it consequently suffers from.
Text and Images: Andrea Palacios
Headerimage Cuba Streetart via Shutterstock