Giving meaning to Expression – Cuban Art

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“Cuba wears its history on its sleeve.”


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Cuban artistic expression has found its way next to the likes of French, English and American artwork without having to compromise on its own ethos. It is the pursuit of liberation that gives meaning to Cuban songs, books and paintings.

Various political motives have vastly affected the public over the past centuries. Consider tourism – the island nation has been stuck in a mix of overpowering nations and dictators. Nonetheless, be it linen clothing or the walls of the city, the people have found consolation in various art forms and Cuban art speaks for itself.

For centuries, Cuba’s greatest resource has been its people. ~ Pico Iyer


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Painters like Wilfred Lam, photographer Alberto Korda, and muralist Amelia Pelaez are the embodiment of the art that resides in the Cuban soul. Their art can be compared to geological formations that go through time and pressure to form something wondrous. The people have employed art in everyday life to creatively defy dictatorship, thereby giving it meaning and purpose.

Jazz and Cuba are inexorably tied together; it’s not a branch from a tree. Latin music is part of the root of jazz. ~ Arturo O’Farrill


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Afro-Cuban Jazz is a sub-genre that originated from the diverse cultures of Cuba. The African influence on Jazz harmonies developed in the 1940s and music today is composed using various techniques of improvisation. The instruments include trumpet, bass guitar, timbale, bongo, conga, piano, trombone, saxophone and the clarinet.

During the late 19th century, many migrated from the island to New Orleans where the genre was developed with various combinations of the previously mentioned instruments. Legend has it – Buddy Bolden was the first Latin Jazz musician who created the ‘big four’ arrangement which is the base for the genre.

Long live the anti-utopian, optimistic, and rebellious features of Cuban Art that will live forever young! ~Abelardo Mena


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In 1920s, Cuba witnessed a counterpart of avant-garde which came to define the Cuban identity – a monumental step for any for any culture. The common ideas of the National Art Academy of Cuba were rejected by the Vanguradia artists to explore a fresh form of art. Having lived in the then art capital of the world – Paris, the artists learned the principles of cubism, modernist primitivism, and surrealism.

The general disregard towards the political structure brought the Cubans together to revel in artistic innovation. What was once the inadequate became the face of the political ideology and national image – the poor. With the turn of the 21st century, Vanguradia artists were accepted worldwide and now inspire millions.

Music is so essential to the Cuban character that you can’t disentangle it from the history of the nation. The history of Cuban music is one of cultural collisions, of voluntary and forced migrations, of religions and revolutions. ~ Ned Sublette


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Spirituality and love has been attached to Cuban melodies by artists over time. From Jazz clubs to outdoor church steps, you can see a mix of locals and travelers lending years to the time sweet melodies of the country. The music has so many variations and evolutions that you would probably need to read a few volumes to understand it all. However, danzon, rumba, conga and musica campensina are the most widely expressed forms.

Santería was traditionally an unacknowledged and underappreciated aspect of what it meant to be Cuban. Every artistic realm–music, theater, literature, etc.–owes a huge debt to santería and the slaves who practiced it and passed it on, largely secretively, for generations.” ― Cristina García


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Jose Marti is one of the most celebrated Cuban poets who fought the colonial era from Spain. His poem White Rose from the Versos Sencillos is of special significance to the Cubans. Nicolas Guillen, on the other hand, was a part of Poesia Negra whose book Motivos de Son was influential book of poetry that used a combination of African rhythms and popular Cuban instruments.

Cuba is much more than just embroidered tops and dresses, cigars, beaches and classic cars. Their touching history has made them true artists. The art forms are the tracks on which the Cuban train rolls; it keeps the country moving amidst all the imposed turmoil. It is for the same reasons that Cuban art stands amongst the best around the world!

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