Educator: Cuban artwork not propaganda for Castro

Andrea Damewood

Communism does not limit freedom of expression in contemporary Cuban art as much as people think, a local artist said during a lecture Tuesday night at the Evanston Public Library.

Joanne Pinsky, co-founder of Art Encounter, an Evanston nonprofit art education group, spoke to more than 35 people about current trends in Cuban art.

“It’s not to say that if an artist made a bad picture of Castro that he wouldn’t get into big trouble,” Pinsky said.

But she said artists must disguise messages in their art.

Every trip was organized through Art Encounter. The group is licensed to travel to Cuba despite the U.S. embargo against travel to the island.

Pinsky addressed the stigma commonly held with Cuban art. Many people believe it to be either oppressive Soviet-style or similar to Mexican folk art, she said.

“There is actually no folk art in Cuba,” Pinsky said. “They are just beginning to develop it because it sells well to tourists. They actually are highly educated and sophisticated.”

Pinsky then explained the history of Cuban art. In Cuba’s dual economy, most workers are paid by the government in pesos, she said. But artists sell their work to tourists, who pay in U.S. dollars, which are worth significantly more.

The currency issue often is explored within their art, as uncertainties loom over the future of Cuba’s economy. For example, one printmaker surrounds the edges of her work with the outer edge of a dollar bill, Pinsky said.

Because most artists were born after the Communist revolution, they have been raised with the ideals of Fidel Castro’s regime. Artists only can criticize Castro in an ambiguous way, Pinsky said.

To prove this point, Pinsky showed a piece of work by Los Carpenteros — Spanish for anonymous — showing filing cabinets with water faucets attached to symbolize leakage. Pinsky said she interprets this work to be a statement against the Cuban government.

“Nothing comes out and says, ‘This is the story,'” Pinsky said.

After a trip around North America, Pinsky organized Art Encounter’s first trip to Cuba with her business partner, Ellen Kamerling out of desire for Cuban culture.

“We went and we just fell in love,” Pinsky said. “The people are so friendly, there’s such a willingness to support each other that we don’t have here.”