THE ART OF THE REVOLUTION

THE ART OF THE REVOLUTION

Flora Fong, Ernesto García Peña & Gilberto Frometa are representatives of the generation of artists who established their professional career as artists and art professors in the 60’s, and as such revolutionized and formed the aesthetics of the new Cuban society.

THE ART OF THE REVOLUTION

The gallery ArteMorfosis celebrated it’s opening year in 2015 with solo exhibitions of these artists because they embody the taste of the Cuban Society. Their work forms part of the collection of contemporary cuban art of the ‘Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana’, and is displayed in all art fairs in Cuba and – most importantly – their work hangs on the walls of many Cuban homes; hardly a household that does not display an edition or print of these artists – they are true ambassadors of Cuban visual taste.

The exhibition shows recent works of Flora, Ernesto and Gilberto and includes a unique highlight from each one: Inspired by their exhibition in Zurich, they created a painting that is displayed for the fist time in this exhibition: Flora shows ‘Primavera en Zurich’ (Spring in Zurich), Ernesto displays ‘La Gran Marcha’ (The Great March) and Gilberto celebrates the successful termination of his exhibition with  ‘When Autumn Ends’.

As diversified the art of these three Cuban Maestros is, ArteMorfosis shows what unites them: Caribbean colors, tropical light, and Cuban ‘joie de vivre’.

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Solo exhibition of the Artists: Flora Fong, Ernesto García Peña, Gilberto Frómeta

Invitation Card to Exhibitions of Flora Fong

Gallery and Exhibition Inauguration

Invitaition CardThe Invitations are sent out, the gallery and artist are ready, the press is informed. ArteMorfosis – Galería de Arte Cubano, is looking forward to an enjoyable inauguration, We welcome all with an interest in Cuban art to join us at our Gallery at Weinbergstrasse 15, 8001 Zürich at 6 p.m.

We will be posting pictures of the event on the Galleries Facebook page

Invitation Card to Exhibitions of Flora Fong

Flora Fong – Art: Elixir of Life

Short Break on the Road toward New Horizons

Dolores Denaro

Diez minutos de descanso is the title of a painting by Cuban artist Flora Fong. Four stylized royal palms, the gigantic native plant of the Caribbean, support a huge coffee filter on top of a jar. The latter, in turn, stands above an also stylized flame, while water runs across the coffee powder. From the coffee pouring into the container rises the aroma. On the left, a person with a hat is seated on the floor with legs drawn together. Leaning against the huge filter base, the man looks out of the painting. In his hands, resting on his knees, he holds a long flat object from which smoke also rises to the filter. The fine smoke, initially white and then darkening upwards, makes one think of an over-dimensioned Cuban cigar. The stranger makes a pause outside a city hinted toward the back with a few strokes. In full calm he takes a break.

Diez Minutos de Descanso - Flora Fong

Invitation with painting ‘Diez Minutos de Descanso’

The painting’s background surrounding the palms, as well as the funnel and jar are reddish brown, while the palm trunks are bluish and the spaces remain white. Due to the ordering of colors and forms, the painting might be interpreted as an abstraction of the Cuban national flag in vertical position. But this is not Flora Fong’s intention. She rather wishes to convey the joy of living, symbolized by the Cuban elixirs of life: coffee and tobacco. Given that the artist has chosen Diez minutos de descanso as the central image of her first exhibition with catalogue in Switzerland, this becomes a parable. Her message to the inhabitants of the restless western world is to stop, become conscious of life and enjoy it. The modification of the typical Cuban coffee filter equals a broad synthesis of art as elixir of life.

The painting’s language fully corresponds to the artist’s previous work. Both the royal palm and the distinctive black line are repeatedly present in Flora Fong’s paintings. The Cuban national tree is represented in most cases ideographically reduced and suggests her Caribbean fatherland. The dominant black trace of the brush, in turn, visually recalls Chinese ink painting, with which she alludes to her Chinese origin. The theme of migration is frequently found in her works: after having studied Chinese calligraphy in the Academy in Havana, Flora Fong carried out extensive studies in 1989 during a trip to China, her father’s fatherland. In Diez minutos de descanso she merges both countries of origin and achieves a unity: the Cuban royal palm as Chinese calligraphy.

FORERUNNER OF TODAY’S CUBAN ART SCENE

Flora Fong is one of the best-known Cuban female artists and one of the first women who finished art studies in post-revolutionary Cuba1 and developed a professional career as an artist. Active in art since 1970, she assumed a forerunner role as a woman on the Cuban art scene. All this happened at the time Cuba became a socialist State after the 1959 revolution under the direction of Fidel and Raúl Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos and Argentinean Che Guevara. The political transformation brought about the corresponding con- sequences. Culture – music, visual arts, literature and dance – was promoted explicitly as a propaganda poster of the revolution. During approximately 50 years, the Cuban art scene developed in a closed society in which the artists of one generation trained those of the next.

LIMITED SOURCES OF INFORMATION

It was only thanks to the National Museum of Fine Arts, founded in 1913 in Havana, that Cubans could learn about the history of European art. Here are works of old Dutch, German, English, Flemish, French, Italian and Spanish masters, next to South American works of art.

For a long time, it was only possible to travel legally outside of Cuba by following a complicated procedure of approval that conveyed high costs and also required an invitation from abroad. With the long-awaited 2013 reform, the bureaucratic obstacles were greatly reduced and the departure authorization was eliminated. The new, inter- nationally appreciated regulations on travel represent a clear opening towards the world. Artists can in principle travel freely; however, in practice only a few can afford it.
Internet and information coming from abroad continue to be controlled by the State. Thus, for example, in Cuba one cannot buy foreign magazines or newspapers. The normalization of diplomatic re- lations announced in 2014 by the heads of State Barack Obama and Raúl Castro will start moving many things in this field.

The fact is that up to now the Cuban art scene has developed shielded from the international world of art and, to a great extent, with its own dynamics. “Among icons of the revolution and marked by insular ob- sessions, works and projects that show with great force and capacity of improvisation the complex dynamics of a tattered existence are emerging in the studios of Havana.”2

Even today the Internet is not a reliable source of information. Not only due to the censure but also to the technical level in the Caribbean island State. Internet surfing with broad band such as we know it in Switzerland is not known in Cuba. Generally the Internet is accessed with 57 kb/s modems, as was the norm in Switzerland in 1998. Nevertheless, a few artists have installed a web site for themselves, to allow for international visibility. Also universities and academies are increasingly – with limitations – putting Internet at the disposal of their students.

CONSEQUENCES OF THE POLITICAL THAW

Gallery owners and collectors from the near-by United States of America increasingly tour the studios of Cuban artists since the U.S. started normalizing its diplomatic relations with Cuba. Indeed, the U.S. embargo did not restrict com- merce with art, literature or music from Cuba, which could be imported and traded freely. On the other hand, U.S. citizens could barely travel to Cuba (and Cubans, if ever, to the U.S.). Thus, no real cultural exchange was possible. The curiosity of European galleries is now being awakened, and it is only a matter of time that the interest of the inter- national art scene will focus increasingly on Cuba.3 The hitherto isolated cases of cultural exchange with the island State are now possible at a larger scale. Cuba will be a growing theme in art fairs and biennials.

So it is only natural for a new gallery to open in Switzerland dedicated to Cuban art, which will initially focus on the Caribbean island’s well-established artists; on those who paved the way for the younger generations. There is a need to catch up with the presentation of Cuban artists outside their country, and with cultural exchanges abroad. The present atmosphere of political transformation with an opening towards the western world hints at an interesting and dynamic phase that will enable Cuban art, for the first time, to reach new shores. On these new paths, to take a ten-minute break (Diez minutos de descanso) over and over again, is a wise advice from artist Flora Fong.

1 Graduated from the National School of Art of Havana.

2 Ines Anselmi and Eugenio Valdes Figueroa (Hrsg.), Neue Kunst aus Kuba. Art actuel de Cuba. Arte cubano contemporáneo, La dirección de la mirada, Edition Voldemeer Zürich, 1999. Neuere Literatur zur Entwicklung der bildenden Kunst in Kuba vgl. Joseph Kiblitsky / Barbara Thiemann, Kunst aus Kuba, Palace Editions, 2002. Nathalie Bondil, Cuba: Art and History from 1868 to Today, Prestel, 2009.
3 See Cash 03.01.2015: Kuba als nächster heisser Kunstmarkt (Cuba as Next Hot Market for Art), www.cash.ch: “Up to the present, the Cuban art market has remained on the fringes of the international public. After U.S.A. suddenly changed the course toward reconciliation, the threat of a mass avalanche of art collectors appears“.

Dolores Denaro, born in 1971, read Modern Art History, Architectural History, and Monument Preservation as well as Religious Studies at the University of Bern. She holds an MA in Cultural Management from the University of Basel. Until 2001 she was freelance publicist and curator as well as research assistant at the Paul-Klee-Stiftung and later the Johannes-Itten-Stiftung at Kunstmuseum Bern. From 1999 until 2001 director and curator at Kunsthaus Grenchen. From 2002 until the end of 2011 (ten years) director and curator at Kunsthaus CentrePasquArt in Biel. From 2012 until 2013 external expert consultant for the Julius Bar Kunstsammlung (art collection). Since 2012, president of the Swiss national Kiefer Hablitzel Preis fur bildende Kunst (fine arts award). Since 2013, freelance curator and publicist. Numerous exhibitions and publications with the focus on contemporary art as well as board member of various art foundations and jury member on several panels.
Cuban Artist Flora Fong

Flora Fong

Cuban Artist Flora Fong

Along more than half a century of artistic experience – starting from the years of academic learning in the sixties up to the present – the coherence in the search and construction of an identity in her style has been the alpha and omega of Flora Fong’s vital career.

A first glance suffices to note her distinctive mark. In a group exhibition, in the midst of the most diverse repertoire of images, Flora is herself, unique and unyielding. It is not necessary to be an expert on her work, not even an expert on currents, styles and trends to state, or at least sense, in the face of any of her works, be it from one period or another, that that painting, that drawing, that engraving, that stained-glass work… is Flora’s.

In the end, artists of her kind do not create for groups of initiates, but seek to create a bi-univocal, reciprocally enriching relation between what they have to offer and the sensitivity of those who receive the work.

Her creation is accessible but not exempt from encoded keys resulting from the mystery of creation. Her images are sustained by a communicative vocation, which does not turn them into primary equations.

Interesting in her case is the fact that she has succeeded without concessions or moulds. There are artists who find a kind of gold mine and freeze their expression; others soon exhaust thematic sources and technical procedures. Flora places herself on the extremes of both phases. Today she is obviously not the one she was initially; she has developed, her language has evolved, she has even explored unsuspected meanders in daily challenges, but at the same time she has remained faithful to her origin, loyal to her glance, consubstantial with her lineage. Although it may seem commonplace to say, Flora has never ceased to be Flora, she has evolved without losing her best creative and human conditions.

About this quality, the outstanding essayist and art critic Graziella Pogolotti declared: “Her proposal transcends the form of doing, implies having defined a perspective and the self-acknowledgment of a personal identity, having assumed a heritage that is not only esthetic but cultural in the broadest sense of the word”.

An approach to Flora’s work must take into consideration both the context in which she was educated and began to develop her work and the saga of her individual growth.

The Camagüey where she was born in 1949 – one of the first villages founded by the Spanish colonizers in the vast plain that precedes the eastern region of Cuba – had not ceased to be the “region of shepherds and hats” sung by Nicolás Guillén, major poet of the city and the country. The traces of the colonial past coexisted with the stagnation existing during the republic set up in 1902; this did not prevent the emergence of certain cultural impulses that, with the political and social transformations that began to take place in the island in 1959, received institutional support.

Land of poets and troubadours more than of painters at the time – even though Fidelio Ponce de León, migrating, tormented and transgressor creator belonging to the vanguard is recognized today as one of its icons – the existence of the Provincial School of Plastic Arts in the early sixties channeled the artist’s original vocation.

She arrived at the school still as a child because of the ability shown in making a plaster mask. There were no formal artistic antecedents in the Fong family – as there weren’t either in the majority of the colleagues of her generation who throughout the island had the possibility to enter the first centers of artistic education opened as part of a new democratization process of culture – but there was indeed the trace of an exceptional sensitivity: that of her father. Francisco was the Spanish name given to her father once he had established himself in Cuba. He came from Canton, from the Taishan-Xié district, and was part of the migration from that vast Asian country that looked for work opportunities in the Caribbean island with the purpose of helping the relatives who remained in China and, if all went well, return home. In Cuba, Francisco, after a stay in Holguín, settled in Camagüey, entered the trading business and founded a Cuban family.

Flora recalls the exquisite manual ability of her father, who as a hobby fabricated kites that were true works of art, a fine display of imagination, made in a very careful way. Francisco never returned to China but kept in contact with his relatives.

In the school in Camagüey, Flora developed particularly her aptitude for drawing and her dominion of the principles of composition under the influence of a teaching staff that included Molné, Juan Vázquez Martín and Raúl Santos Serpa.

The inborn talent and education enabled the young girl to enter the National School of Art, the most important art teaching center of the 1960s. They were years of hard exercising and learning of the craft according to the personal expressive requirements and of growing in the work sessions with Espinosa Dueñas in engraving;

Fernando Luis, who transmitted to her the secrets of color, and of the notable poet and painter Fayad Jamís. Flora graduated from the ENA in 1970 and immediately started teaching at the San Alejandro Fine Arts Academy in Havana, the oldest in the country, where she remained almost twenty years, until 1989, an experience that marked her for her lifetime. It was not easy to alternate the rigors of teaching with the development of her personal work, overcoming material difficulties with ingeniousness and creativity, forming a family – in that period her children Liang and Li, both artists, were born –, organizing exhibitions and participating in salons. But the artist surmounted these challenges and in those very years began to make herself known as one of the creators with the greatest recognition and relevance in the art scene of the island and international renown.

Flora Fong’s first solo show took place in 1973 at Galería Galiano of Havana, but the second, scarcely two years later, revealed a line of great interest for her future work. In fact, it was a bi-personal exhibition: Ma- nuel Mendive and Flora, with twenty works from each one of the artists. It was presented in Bucharest and Prague and then was lost when sent to Africa because of lack of insurance.

Nevertheless, the presence of her work next to that of Manuel Mendive gained a symbolical relevance that cannot escape notice. Mendive started from the African heritage, from the Yoruba mythology trans-cultured in Cuba, from the mysteries of the woods. In painting he descended from the work of Wifredo Lam and Roberto Diago.

Flora represented the face that complemented the island’s identity, but she never did it in a topical manner. Hers is not a superficial Cuban-ness, but one from her roots. If in Mendive one hears drums, claves and chekerés, in Flora it is background music that flows in the complex harmony of the tunes accompanied by lutes and guitars. She is related somehow, rather obliquely, to Carlos Enríquez and Amelia Peláez, although at certain moments the contacts with abstractionism and the expressionistic stamp of Antonia Eiriz are filtered.

Art critic and teacher Adelaida de Juan summarized the artist’s career, from her initiation up to maturity, as follows: “Flora has worked untiringly creating worlds that evoke her immediate surroundings. Unlike Amelia, who found plenitude in her family world, Flora looks outside from her interior: from the near and daily figures she moves to the landscape, first to the one inhabited by palms and malanga plants that portray the happiness existing in the gardens still surrounding her, and later to the woods and mountains, the forces of nature shaken by cyclones and darkened by storm clouds, until reaching the sea that surrounds the island”.

But it would also be necessary to say that, unlike not only Amelia but certain esthetic approaches that are common to the Cuban vanguards of the 20th century who sought to validate identity with modern discourses, Flora has gradually stripped herself of gestures and references associated with the essential evolutionary line of Cuban painting.

With his customary sharpness, in the eighties, critic Alejandro G. Alonso already defined that characteristic of Flora’s: “Since she does not copy or describe, but neither is she on the sidelines of the roads marked by international trends, so she freely takes advantage of the resources that find an echo deep in her way of understanding painting. Hence, she does not leap into the void; rather we witness the logical development that connects with previous whirl- pools and cyclones, to give definitive steps toward her affirmation as a creator”. An affirmation that overflows the borders of painting, drawing and engraving and shows also in murals, stained-glass works, volumetric constructions and sculptures, like the ones set up at the University of Computer Sciences in the outskirts of Havana and in the courtyard of the National Museum of Fine Arts.

In her work it is impossible to establish dividing lines between lyrical content and dramatic reason, nor between iconic and narrative. This does not mean that conflicts are absent, but these are solved by means of an amazing power of synthesis, an ability that distinguishes her among contemporary Cuban creators.

That long and consciously cultivated virtue is what accounts for the unrepeatable wealth of her thematic variations; gardens and coffee sieves, tobacco leaves and landscapes, sunflowers and storms, seashores and banana plantations. All of it conceived under the prism of a very precise spatial distribution, a strict chromatic display and an admirable dynamic balance, which remit us to two dominant elements in her iconography: the hurricane and the palm tree.

A portrait of Flora is not complete if one ignores the creative line that remits her to her fatherly ancestors. The influence of her Chinese origins was present, as we have already mentioned, since the initiation times, but were definitely substantiated in the mid eighties, when she researched on the art of her father’s country, and much more when the artist traveled to China for the first time in 1989 and met her relatives.

The universe of calligraphy and ideogram construction nourished her esthetic experience. This last ele- ment becomes perceivable in the conception of the landscape, the use of color and the projection of the structure in the composition. Something that powerfully drew her attention was the way in which in China the study of painting goes from the parts to the whole, whereas in the West it goes from the whole to the parts. In her work presented at the 1st Havana Biennial one appreciated the calligraphic gesture, which reappeared in many other later works and which are part of private and institutional collections and of environmental decorations of public places. During the 2nd Havana Biennial she conducted a workshop on kite construction together with two Chinese specialists.

But more than calligraphy, the Chinese heritage reflects on the spirituality that emerges from Flora’s work. A spirituality, however, that is not deprived of passions or tensions.

Poet Miguel Barnet noticed it when he wrote: “In the face of a work by Flora Fong one may perceive multiple sensations: the intricate nature of a woodland scene, the presence of ancestral elves trapped by the green of gigantic leaves, the white that balances the strong shades and grants a perspective of infiniteness, so familiar in her lineage. The truth as personal experience appears in this painting in the fashion of Eastern tradition. It is an ineffably suggested truth. The keys lie in nature and not in the philosophical language of signs. The Tao without words and the good offices of Eleggua mix in this succession of images to form a whole that reveals the poetic grace”. East and West in Flora’s work are not a dichotomy. Nor are they a complementary couple. It is an organic fusion, intrinsically articulated, in its creative individuality and live transit. Because before and after everything, in the crossing of realities and dreams that amalgamate in her visions, this Flora of universal scope is substantially Cuban.

VIRGINIA ALBERDI, Art Specialist, Havana, February 2015

Virginia Alberdi Benítez (Havana, 1947) Graduate from the Higher Pedagogic Institute Enrique José Varona, 1970. Art critic, editor of Artecubano ediciones. During more than twenty years she was a Specialist in Promotion at the National Council for Plastic Arts (CNAP). During five years she was a senior specialist at the gallery Pequeño Espacio, at CNAP. She has curated numerous solo and group exhibitions. Her texts appear as collaborations in La Jiribilla, Granma newspaper, the tabloid Noticias de Arte Cubano, the magazines Artecubano, On Cuba, Acuarela. She has written texts for catalogues of different artists.
Cuban Artist Flora Fong

Flora Fong