Two Steps Forward: Contemporary Cuban Art

04/29/2016 10:00 AM - 06/04/2016 05:00 PM ET


Two Steps Forward showcases contemporary Cuban art from the collection of Terri and Steven Certilman. Acquired over more than fifteen years during their travels, the works in the exhibition collectively represent the country's unique artistic talent. The exhibition also marks a historic moment and a transformational phase in the arts and culture of Cuba.

Browse our online catalog of Two Steps Forward

Westport Arts Center Guest Curator, Arianne Faber Kolb (formerly of the Getty and the Metropolitan Museum of Art) has assembled a selection of works for the exhibition that explore Cuban identity, its diverse cultural heritage, and the political and economic climate within the context of its historic isolation. In recent years, a new generation of expressive post-revolutionary Cuban artists has explored and conveyed various aspects of their culture through diverse media. Despite political constraints, they communicate what it means to be Cuban on various levels.

"The unique political, social and economic conditions in Cuba have combined to catalyze what may be the world's highest concentration of artistic talent. Their works are as diverse as the country's rich cultural heritage. It is said that the eyes are the windows of the soul. Art is the window to the Cuban soul," said Steven Certilman. 

Two Steps Forward refers to the current political and artistic climate in Cuba and the thaw in relations with the United States. The lifting of restrictions between the two countries has given artists access to more resources and increased exposure to the rest of the world. However, despite these recent developments, change is slow and economic strains continue for much of the Cuban population. The exhibition title Two Steps Forward makes clear reference to the adage "Two steps forward, one step back" and represents the dichotomy of progress and inertia during this time.

Two Steps Forward  Featured Artists

Abel Barroso Arencibia (b. 1971) creates handcrafted wooden sculptures that represent the Cuban search for identity and emphasize the challenges in accessing new technologies. Barroso has exhibited at the Tate Gallery in London and the Marlborough Gallery in New York, and his work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum.

The moving and spiritual work of Juan Roberto Diago Durruthy (b. 1971) draws on elements of his Afro-Cuban religion in treating race, religion and slavery. His work has been featured in major galleries worldwide, including the Marlborough Gallery in New York. He has exhibited internationally and most recently participated in the 2015 Havana Biennial, as well as numerous group shows in the U.S. and abroad including Queloides at Centro Wilfredo Lam in Havana, and travelled to The Mattress Factory, Harvard University and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMbill Cover in 2014. He was awarded the Juan Francisco Elso Prize by the National Fine Arts Museum, Cuba and named one of “Six Contemporary Artists you Need to Know About” by Christies in 2015.

Roberto Fabelo (b. 1951) is one of Cuba’s finest artists. A master of drawing, painting, watercolor, engraving and installation, Fabelo uses portraits, grotesque figures and scenery to create works which blur the line between fantasy and reality. In 2004, he was awarded the Premio Nacional de Artes Plásticas, Cuba’s top award in fine arts.

Héctor Frank Heredia García (b. 1961) creates works primarily in an abstract or abstract figurative style. The pieces have evolved over time from works on paper, to canvas and currently repurposed wood. The artist often uses pieces of old doors or furnishings as the foundation for his projects on wood, employing other found materials to accent the paint and bring the character to life by lifting it off the background.

Manuel Mendive Hoyo’s (b. 1944) prolific work crosses many media. He uses drawing, painting, body painting, wood carving, bronze sculpture, and performance that integrates loosely choreographed dance with rhythmic music. The primary theme in his art is his recognition that African religion and African culture have shaped Cuban national identity and culture.

Harold López Muñoz (b. 1977) seeks to create an atmosphere of constant uncertainty, transmitting states of mind rather than easily identifiable events, ignoring the superfluous details and descriptions of detailed environments so that the viewers complete, from their own experience, the interpretation of the scenes that he proposes.

Manuel López Oliva (b. 1947) is both an award-winning artist and an accomplished art critic. Among many national honors, he holds the Award for Distinction in National Culture and an Honorary Degree for Artistic Merit from the Instituto Superior de Arte where he serves as a Consulting Professor. He has also received the Guy Pérez Cisneros National Prize for lifetime achievement in the field of art and cultural criticism.

William Pérez (b. 1965) is a highly acclaimed artist, who has had shows in Germany, Denmark, and Mexico. He sees himself as a creator who is constantly re-inventing himself through his development of new techniques. He strives to evolve and grow as an artist and as a conscientious contributor to society

Mabel Poblet Pujol (b. 1986) is one of the most highly sought-after young artists to emerge from the contemporary Cuban art scene. She graduated from the National Academy of Fine Arts (the famous San Alejandro School) and the Instituto Superior de Artes (ISA). Her mixed media work closely examines her identity, origins, and relationships with others, while also reinterpreting pop and kinetic art. Poblet often uses herself as the main protagonist of her work, reflecting on self-exploration and memory. For Poblet, the color red is central to her work, because it symbolizes the polarities of life and death. Poblet’s work can be found in collections in France and Cuba and has been exhibited in the U.S. and Europe.

In her piece entitled Reflected, she incorporates plastic flowers created by female inmates of the Holguín prison. According to Poblet, “The flowers, made from recycled material, are absolutely kitsch. However, the process of designing and making them satisfies a need for emancipation and creativity. This experience not only moved me, but also made me question the relationship established among concepts like kitsch, folklore, and art.”

Ibrahim Miranda Ramos’ (b. 1969) obsession with maps reflects his conscious desire to revise the map of Cuba. He creates his biomorphic landscapes on the surface of these maps almost completely obliterating any trace of the landmass below. He gives us small glimpses of the original surface, as if he is in the process of sculpting a new world over the old Cuba.

Angel Ramírez Roque (b. 1954) uses sarcasm and humor to describe life in Cuba. His art is recognizable by its clear and precise iconoclastic sagacity. He uses recycled objects, text and images, many taken from medieval times. Splendid images, sometimes accompanied by text or words bring to the fore his talent, intelligence, sense of humor and use of sarcasm which all work together to produce the visual poetry that defines his work.

About Terri and Steven Certilman: 

Terri and Steven Certilman, the principals of Discoveries in Art (, have traveled the Caribbean and Latin America collecting art for more than thirty years. After many years of art hunting in Haiti, they now center their efforts in Cuba, where they find the opportunities for new and exciting art to be limitless. Founded in 2001,  their mission is to promote the artistic works and artists of Cuba and in doing so to build goodwill, understanding and respect between the people of the United States and our neighbors to the south by focusing attention on the contemporary art of Cuba and highlighting a common denominator between us all – creativity.

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