PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOHN KAZAKLIS
ART/ifact’s recent exhibition “Ceaseless Stream” gives new cultural perspective through atypical art forms by Cuban-born exiles.
ART AND EMPATHY
Can art help people develop cultural empathy? Art and its ability to evoke empathy isn’t necessarily a new conversation, but it’s one that has been buzzing more frequently as of recent years. Even researchers have taken time to truly investigate art’s impact on our social awareness and understanding. A recent study from Tulane University says that medical students who spend more time engaging with art exhibited higher levels of empathy.
“Art has the capacity for us to not only see a piece of work, but to immerse ourselves within its story; to hang around long enough to understand new complexities.”
Art has the capacity for us to not only see a piece of work, but to immerse ourselves within its story, to hang around long enough to understand new complexities. Art has the ability to humanize a story in a way that words alone can oftentimes not accomplish. It takes us out of ourselves and gives us bigger perspective of the world around us.
“Art has the power to connect us all,” says executive director of ART/ifact, Elizabeth Hults. On April 20, the ART/ifact gallery opened an exhibition titled “Ceaseless Stream.” This exhibition ran through the month of May and included artwork from five Cuban-born exiles. It was the first art show of its kind in Lakeland. According to Hults, her hope for this exhibit was to expose the community to another culture as well as atypical art forms.
A CEASELESS STREAM
“Ceaseless Stream” was inspired by a Japanese poem from painter Takesada Matsutani’s A Matrix which reads: “The flow of the river is ceaseless and its water is never the same.” Exhibition organizer and featured artist, Musaschy Filgueira (aka Niten), is a devotee of Matsutani and drew parallels between the poem and Cuban exiles crossing open seas to reach America.
Filgueira is a doctor who was born in La Habana, Cuba, in 1970 and migrated to Polk County in 2004. “This exhibition represents water flowing with unknown ends, such as the art from Cuba,” says Filgueira.
Selected artists provided both figurative and abstract pieces that reflected this theme. “The title is a very suggestive title that gives rise to a continuity of events that can be projected in the future,” says featured exhibition artist, Jesus Rivera.
Cuba has longed endured a difficult history — one filled with over 50 years of painful separation between those who left Cuba and those who stayed. Since Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959, Cuba sustained a massive flow of migrants with multiple waves of Cubans headed to the United States due to political and economic conditions. Cuban exiles have clung to hopes of returning to Cuba someday. However, it seems to be a continual pull between hope and apathy among each generation even with Fidel Castro gone.
“This exhibition represents water flowing with unknown ends, such as the art from Cuba.”
– Musaschy Filgueira
The long history of these hardships are of course more complex than just that, though. Perhaps an excerpt from the exhibition booklet from “Ceaseless Stream” curator, Olga Chao, can give even more insight into the deeper layers of Cuban exiles:
Cubans have a historic destiny to exile. Since the first famous exile of Jose Maria Heredia in 1806, in the United States, to his descendant, a cousin, Jose Maria de Heredia, 1906, in France, dozens of notable artists, poets, writers, and philosophers went into exile, including a young exile, businessman Miguel de Aldama, who in 1870 or so, was one of the three richest men in the United States. Then came us: one million Cubans in exodus from their island from 1959, away from a tyrannical government which has laid Cuba to waste — like Dresden, or Syria.
“The idea for the exhibition was largely organic in terms of process,” says Hults. “Connections began to form during a prior exhibition by the Hispanic Club of Lakeland.” Initially, Filgueira desired to find a way to showcase different approaches to art. Olga Chao, who is also a licensed art appraiser, saw Filgueira’s artwork at Polk State College. After this initial connection, Chao asked Filgueira to put together a collection of artwork from professional artists comprised of Cuban exiles living in South Florida.
From there, about 20 artists submitted their art for consideration into this exhibit. Chao narrowed down this selection to five artists: Antonio Guerrero, Francisco Miranda, Musaschy Filgueira (Niten), Adriano Nicot, and Jesus Rivera. Each of them brought their own personalities through their artwork to not only highlight their personal efforts, but also to educate the local community regarding the art of Cuban-born artists.
“These artists were selected because their art does not necessarily present what is traditionally known as ‘Cuban art,’ says Filgueira. Through the showcase, viewers encountered pieces such as Nicot’s mixed media that dramatized dark colors “to create a new language of the traditional Cuban painting,” says Filgueira. On the other hand, Miranda, “who is considered one of the best landscape artists from Cuba, showcases landscapes from the contemplation of what is inside him, not what is considered a traditional landscape,” says Filgueira.
Along with a more contemporary look to these pieces, what made this Cuban-influenced gallery unique was that it encompassed some of the best Cuban artists, not necessarily artwork specific to Cuba. “Their pieces could be displayed in any exhibit or museum around the world, and are great examples of contemporary art,” says Filgueira. And Filgueira himself decided to showcase a new abstract and expressionism piece.
It was important to all involved in the gallery to promote Cuban-born artists and their art that isn’t stereotypical to Cuba. Hults, Filgueira, and Chao all desired to highlight what these artists have accomplished within the realism of their lives today.
“It was an honor to be with such an outstanding group of excellent artists,” says Rivera, who has been recognized for his expressionistic flora and landscape paintings which have been displayed over the past 20 years in Cuba. Rivera included in “Ceaseless Stream” a collection of circle paintings, which he has called “Scared Circles” because “they carry with them a great energy capable of shaking souls and feelings,” he says.
BRIDGING THE GAP
Overall, the exhibit received positive feedback from the city. “I was so proud of the Lakeland community for showing up and supporting such an endeavor. People are asking, ‘What’s next?’” says Hults. For Filgueira, he aspires for this showcase to be a catalyst for even more investment into the Lakeland art community. “It is my hope that the Lakeland art scene would consider opening more spaces for artists to showcase their works,” he says.
With the intention of sharing new cultural and artistic perspectives, highlighting well-known Cuban artists may have created new momentum for the Lakeland art. “I believe we were able to bring an art movement to Polk County from well-known Cuban-born artists, with the intention of sharing with the local art scene a different point of view regarding art,” says Filgueira. “Artists from all over the world, including Cuban artists, want to share their art with all American people from all walks of life and cultures. As a new frontier, Polk County provided a wonderful opportunity for this to happen.”
By taking the time to see what artists see, exposure to art may help bridge the gap of cultural misunderstandings by cultivating new global perspectives. “I think it’s important for people to be exposed to other cultures and art forms,” says Hults. “My hope is to continue to build this momentum through exposure to not only culturally diverse art, but largely experimental art forms as well. I hope to challenge and grow our community by engaging them through art.”