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Latino Arts Inc. Shines Light on ‘Cuban Artists’ Books and Prints’

Dec. 8, 2009
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The Ediciones Vigia, a small, independent press operating in Matanzas, Cuba, encourages and supports artists to produce handmade books despite limited resources and harsh conditions. This impressive artists’ collective, founded by poet Alfredo Zaldivar and designer/illustrator Rolando Estevez in 1985, became a symbol for the light that could still illuminate Cuban culture during political and economic upheaval. A stylized kerosene lantern adorns many of the organization’s publications and signifies its mission to ignite creativity even when threatened by extreme circumstances. Latino Arts Inc. presents the acclaimed work from the Vigia Press in the recently opened exhibition “Cuban Artists’ Books and Prints: 1985-2008.”

The idea for the traveling exhibition began when Wake Forest University’s Linda S. Howe organized the “Cuban Book Project.” More than 120 pieces from the Vigia Press opened at Grolier Club of Manhattan in May 2009, followed by a symposium at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition documents an emigration of Cuban culture that reflects the social, economic and political chaos continually affecting the island since the 1980s and honors the Cuban revolution’s 50th anniversary.

Thirteen artists educated at celebrated art academies contribute artwork that incorporates text in accordion, hand-bound or matchbox books, along with magazines, scrolls and print on objects. Eight glass cases staggered throughout the gallery hold the numerous books for viewing. One wishes that all the books could be touched, opened and studied, but close observation of the books—even if just a cover—reveals volumes about Cuban society and reflects various aesthetic influences.

The art mounted on the gallery walls deserves equal attention. Carlos Estevez displays Desnudar el Alma(Stripping Bare the Soul) in wood, cloth and ink. His 2-foot-tall doll, with carved wood head, feet and hands, uses its soft, stuffed body as a book. Hanging behind this bald figure with glass eyes are four pieces of meticulously sewn clothing: pantaloons, bustier, nightdress and formal gown. Each garment patterned with written words and pictures details feminine Cuban destinies and dreams.

Danilo Moreno prints a muslin dress using copper blocks, Ibrahim Miranda superimposes mystical images over Cuban maps and Carilda Oliver Labra layers brown paper in a foldout book that hangs like a poster on the wall. And these represent only a few of the haunting and fascinating images and objects featured throughout the Latino Arts Gallery.

The artwork transcends its foreign text as these handmade books invoke the fragile Cuban existence. The humbly lit lantern representing the Vigia Press and its significant exhibition reminds all cultures that artistic expression and individual creativity can too easily be extinguished. (The exhibit continues through Feb. 5, 2010, and sponsors a discussion about Ediciones Vigia on Feb. 4 at UW-Milwaukee’s Golda Meir Library.)

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