Havana artists exhibit in Key West
by Jed Dodds
The not-for-profit cultural organization, established in 2006, begins its 2015 season by moving to a 14,400-square-foot Art Deco building at 533 Eaton St. Situated just off the island city’s famed Duval Street, the new location features two dedicated exhibition spaces for contemporary art, nine studios for practicing artists in varying disciplines, two classrooms, a cutting-edge media lab and a 200-seat professional theater.
Kicking off The Studios of Key West’s 2015 exhibit schedule is a group of three artists from Havana known as Stainless. There work will inevitably be judged against the backdrop of shifting U.S.-Cuban relations, and misconceptions born out of a half century cut off from one another. The exhibit is on display from Thursday, Feb. 5 through Thursday, Feb. 26.
For one, the sex. Far from the dour Soviet state one might imagine, Cuba remains incredibly sexualized, with few of the hangups that other cultures bring to the table. Second, the politics. The undeniable limits on free speech and assembly in Cuba don’t prevent Stainless — and many if not most of their peers — from obsessing openly about politics, and critiquing the State through the thinnest of veils. Lastly, what comes through most clearly of all, is that these three artists are unapologetically having the time of their lives.
Alejandro Pineiro Bello, Jose Gabriel Capaz and Roberto Fabelo Hung have been making work together under the name Stainless since 2010, when they met at Havana’s renowned San Alejandro Academy of Fine Art. Their basic recipe is this: mix equal parts sex and politics (okay, maybe a little extra sex), add a healthy dose of bravado and a dollop of provocation, and you get… cake!The cake is the alchemical connector of it all: sensual, hyped up with sugar, oozing with icing and just as absurd as it is irresistible. The word for cake in Spanish is pastel, which is also slang for orgy. Swirls of “icing” made of color-infused resin work equally well to depict a riot of pornography or a model of the “Capitolio,” Havana’s famously useless replica of the U.S. Capital building. It’s tempting just to lick it, and they’ve provided tongues for that too — 250 of them, cast in bubble gum pink resin from cows’ tongues they buy at the street market.
Stainless shows little interest in putting limits or structure on their ambition or imagination. They wield their tongues like floppy swords against the pompous inefficiencies of Cuban socialism, but also skewer the universe of capitalism, with a nighttime sky made of 10,000 corporate logos. With a wink in their eye and a disarming grin, they suggest a third way, replacing empty slogans or corporate spreadsheets with raw sensuality, and dollars and CUC’s (Cuba’s convertible currency, pronounced “kooks”) with sugar as a measure of currency.
And why should they limit themselves? Stainless is riding a wave of white-hot interest in Cuban art, which is bound to grow as it opens up. From here, they travel to New York City, where they are scheduled to take over all the billboards in Times Square for a night. It’s going to be sweet.
Contributor Jed Dodds is the executive director of The Studios of Key West.
Stainless: One Chaotic Mind/Una Mente Caótica is part of an ongoing cultural exchange coordinated by the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, The Studios of Key West, and Nance Frank, curator and historian. It follows on the heels of One Race, The Human Race, which drew international attention in February 2014 by presenting the first exhibition of an American artist in Cuba since the revolution – Key West Cuban American folk artist Mario Sanchez – and a multi-venue exhibition in Key West of a dozen of Cuba’s leading contemporary artists.