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Hot Ticket – Without Masks: Contemporary Afro-Cuban Art

Ruperto Jay Matamoros (1912-2008) ÒFlores de la TierraÓ (Flowers from Earth), 1994 Oil on canvas 71 x 85 cm.

Courtesy the Watch Hill Foundation

Hot Ticket – Without Masks: Contemporary Afro-Cuban Art

It's the largest collection of contemporary Afro-Cuban art ever displayed, and it's making its first North American stop at the Museum of Anthropology this week.

Without Masks: Contemporary Afro-Cuban Art comprises paintings, drawings, prints, collage, patchwork, sculptures, photographs, video art and more by 31 Afro-Cuban artists, from Cuban art world legends to contemporary up-and-comers.

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And while the pieces are visually striking, Havana-based curator Orlando Hernandez, formerly of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, sought works not only for their visual appeal, but also for the sociological, historical, anthropological, religious and political ideas they confront.

Specifically, he chose works that touch on two highly charged themes: the influence of African religions – among them Palo Monte, Santeria, Ifá and Abakuá – on Cuban society, and the deeply ingrained racism toward Afro-Cubans that underlies the island nation's culture, and dates all the way back to the slave trade.

"These stereotypes came from colonial times, but they are still alive," says Mr. Hernandez, who says the racism is especially insidious because it is subtle, but persistent. "And one of the ways to try to resolve this situation is to put it in a frame in front of people and show them this kind of thing still exists."

The exhibition was first launched in Johannesburg in 2010 during the FIFA World Cup, and spans works created from 1980-2009 by artists in Cuba and around the globe. To launch the exhibit, Mr. Hernandez will be doing curator tours and several of the artists will also give talks.

"It is the African legacy that we have in Cuba – in culture, in philosophy, in symbology, in the colour of the skin, and the life of this population that has interacted with this legacy," says Mr. Hernandez, in a rich Cuban accent. "So I think people will enjoy it – and they will understand as well."

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