Artistic inspiration deeply engrained in Cuba & Key West
The landmark and ongoing project One Race, the Human Race, serves as a cultural bridge between two islands with roots soaked in creativity and Cubanismo. It began with Key West’s Mario Sanchez exhibition of works at Havana’s National Museum of Fine Arts. The first steps across The Florida Straights began on January 17, 2014 in Havana. A month later, on February 20, 2014 in Key West a series of exhibitions and residencies by contemporary Cuban artists took place at multiple venues. It was the First Cuban-American museum exchange in over five decades and that was just the beginning.
Key West has had a special relationship with Cuba, firmly established by history as much as proximity. The legacy of Cubans in Key West owes more to revolutionaries fleeing Spanish rule in the 19th century, than to those who fled the dictators after independence. These Cuban Utopians paved the way for writers, painters, performers and all types of folks to find a safe haven for independent thinking and diversity. Key West has embraced one human family for 150 years. Both Cubans and Key Westers are independent and curious rather than judgemental.
History provides the backdrop for One Race, The Human Race; uniting not only Cuba to Key West, but also to a consortium of the island’s cultural organizations. The Studios of Key West leads a present-day resurgence in the arts, bringing renowned artists to the island as teachers, performers, exhibiting artists and artists in residence. The Studios serve as the coordinating body for One Race, hosting Cuban artists in our residency cottages, and exhibiting major art figures like Mendive, Fabelo, Rocío and Sandra Ramos.
It is beyond fitting that Ernest Hemingway’s home caters as the perfect setting for new work by The Merger, a trio of artists whose pop-art inspired sculptures poke fun at masculinity and power. There is no single figure that unites Key West and Cuba more than Ernest Hemingway.
Sandra Ramos’ interactive sculpture The Bridge had a perfect home at Cuba’s National Museum of Fine Arts for the 2012 Havana Biennial and The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum known for the Spanish treasure recovered in the straits between Key West and Cuba. The Bridge invites viewers to walk across those same waters.
Ruben Alpízar and Reynerio Tamayo presented new work at the Gato Building, a former cigar factory and now home to the Florida Keys Council of the Arts. The Gato Building brings us full circle to Mario Sanchez, Key West’s beloved folk artist, whose work is exhibited at the National Museum of Art in Havana. Sanchez’ father and grandfather worked in the Gato building reading newspapers and the classics aloud to the cigar rollers. His message of common humanity, bound by good will and good humor, is the animating spirit behind an exchange of artists and ideas that arrives at just the right time to feed Key West’s creative, Cuban soul. Tamayo will be in residence in the summer of 2015.
Finally, Key West’s oldest house was built in 1829 and presented Stainless, the youngest brash, exuberant and often irreverent collection in a location with the spark of historic preservation movements of the 1950’s. These artists were unable to travel to Key West then, but will be in residence at The Studios Key West in February, 2015. The One Race cultural exchange with artists from Cuba and Key West will continue next year with exhibits in various venues including the new home of The Studios of Key West on the corner of Simonton & Eaton.