Some of Cuba’s leading contemporary artists are to debut their work in Key West Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 20-22, as part of a groundbreaking Cuban-American art exchange that is believed to be the first in more than 50 years.
As a feature of the exchange, an exhibition of 30 intaglio prints by the late Key West folk artist Mario Sanchez debuted Jan. 17 at Cuba’s Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana. A second-generation American of Cuban descent, Sanchez was famed for his painted bas-relief carvings that chronicled Key West life and its racial, religious and gender harmony in the early 1900s.
Enthusiasts can meet the Cuban artists in Key West and view nearly 120 pieces of their work during unveilings and other events at five venues in the island city’s historic Old Town.
“This pioneering cultural exchange, titled ‘One Race, The Human Race,’ features the most famous cutting-edge artists in Cuba today,” said exchange organizer Nance Frank, a Sanchez expert and director of Key West’s Gallery on Greene.
Located closer to Havana than to the U.S. mainland, Key West began welcoming Cuban cigar-makers who sought personal and political freedom in the early 1830s. The art exchange is the latest aspect of the shared cultural heritage that has linked the two islands ever since.
The Key West events are to begin with a 6-9 p.m. unveiling Thursday, Feb. 20, at The Studios of Key West, 600 White St. Scheduled artists include world-renowned sculptor and painter Manuel Mendive, whose performance art featuring body-painted dancers is to debut at 7 p.m.; respected painter, illustrator and sculptor Roberto Fabelo; Sandra Ramos, whose artistry explores the harsh realities of Cuban life; and Rocio Garcia, a cartoon-inspired master of works that tell vivid stories.
Friday’s 5-7 p.m. focus is on the Merger, three sculptors of large-scale satirical works, showcasing pop art–inspired creations at the 907 Whitehead St. home where Ernest Hemingway lived for much of the 1930s. The site is particularly fitting since the legendary author had close ties to Cuba as well as Key West.
The evening’s events also include a 6-8 p.m. debut at the historic Gato Building, a former cigar factory at 1100 Simonton St. that is now home to the Florida Keys Council of the Arts. Featured there are Ruben Alpizar, whose paintings and sculptures reference wide-ranging historic figures, and contemporary painter/sculptor Reynerio Tamayo, known for a series on the sport of baseball, which is beloved in both Cuba and Key West.
Saturday’s spotlight is on artist Abel Barroso, appearing 5-7 p.m. at the Oldest House Museum, 322 Duval St. Barroso is internationally acclaimed for satirical, sometimes playful wooden sculptures that highlight serious themes such as immigration and poverty.
The cultural celebration is to conclude Saturday with the 6-8 p.m. debut of a massive sculpture by Ramos at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, 200 Greene St. Titled “The Bridge” and representing the Florida Straits crossing from Cuba to Key West, the sculpture is large enough for people to walk across. Plans call for multicultural dance performances that incorporate the piece in a symbolic reconnecting of the two islands and their cultures.