Caught in the Act

Cuban Art Comes to South Boston

By Jared Bowen

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May 16, 2012



BOSTON — When it comes to art, relations between the United States and Cuba have thawed enough that in some exceptional cases, American patrons can have access to Cuban artists.
 
At Galeria Cubana in Boston’s South End, days before a show opening, one can see at work the fine art of managing stress. Gallery owner Michelle Wojcik says, “It’s of course challenging to get the artwork into the country and once it gets here it certainly doesn’t return easily.”
 
Wojcik’s is a lofty and complicated endeavor. She is one of roughly 30 people in the United States with a license to import artwork from Cuba — work she fulfills by scouring the island alone.
 
“It’s a very interesting art scene in Cuba,” she said. “Quite diverse. Much more so than one would think from the outset for an island. Essentially, there are many different styles lot of different influences that make the work amazingly dynamic.”
 
As a case in point, take the work of painter Orestes Gaulhiac, the subject of Galeria Cubana’s latest show.
 
“You can see in Gaulhiac’s work, certainly, Cubism and different themes of life in the campesino, as they say, in Cuba in the countryside,” Wojcik says.
 
Gaulhiac said travel influenced his art at a young age. “When I turned 12 or 13 I was taken by the discovery of the countryside. The sensation of freedom of being in a new place has always been in my work. The scenes of farmers and kids is part of my youth and will always be inside my work,” he says.
 
Because travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba have eased slightly over the last 2 years, Wojcik was able to bring Gaulhiac here for the show. However — days before the show’s opening last week, she didn’t know if the artist or his work would actually arrive.
 
“In fact his wife, who’s his representative, received her visa a couple of weeks in advance and he did not receive it until late on the day Monday. And therefore he had to take a plane very late, did not sleep and then was on the first plane here Tuesday morning,” Wojcik says.
 
It is the peril of working in Cuba, where there is no full internet access and artists are often subject to the whims of government. But Gaulhiac says the hassle is worth the exposure.
 
“This is an opportunity to bring my work someplace else and to show what I do. In the arts this is very important, to be able to take to places what one does, to confront different audiences and opinions,” he says.
 
In  Cuba, support of all arts is fostered in youth, so the privatization of art is lucrative in a country with wild economic inequity.
        
“Typically, people get paid about $20 to $25 a month, more or less, regardless of what their occupation is. So a doctor or a lawyer, a professor, will be making $25 a month. And an artist has an opportunity to gain earnings that far exceed that certainly,” Wojcik explains.
 
For arts patrons here, meanwhile, there is opportunity for rare entrée into a realm where, according to Wojcik, Cuban artists do much with little.
 
“How they use their materials and not find canvas and not find paper and not find paint — there’s just extraordinary shortages that have really led to an amazing amount of creativity and imagination,” she says.

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About the Author
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 

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