May 20 – August 1, 2009. Cuban Artists' Books & Prints / Libros y Grabados de Artistas Cubanos 1985-2008. Curated by Linda S. Howe.
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May 20 – August 1, 2009
Cuban Artists' Books & Prints / Libros y Grabados de Artistas Cubanos 1985-2008
Curated by Linda S. Howe

The Grolier Club is pleased to present an exhibition highlighting the remarkable vitality of contemporary book arts in Cuba. On view from May 20 – August 1, Cuban Artists Books and Prints / Libros y Grabados de Artistas Cubanos 1985-2009 surveys the work of thirteen acclaimed artists who, for over twenty years, have ingeniously expressed their experiences of life in Cuba. They have survived cultural politics, difficult living conditions, and resource shortages that limited their access to the most basic materials, like paper. Their creative responses range from romantic reverie and nostalgia to humor and irony.

Curated by Linda S. Howe, Professor of Romance Languages at Wake Forest University, the exhibition gathers over 120 books, maquettes for unpublished projects, related prints, and printed objects. The books were designed for Ediciones Vigía, a collaborative artists’ press founded in 1985 in Matanzas. The only press of its kind in Cuba or perhaps anywhere, it began with a mimeograph machine and a borrowed typewriter. Its limited editions of works by leading Cuban authors as well as García Lorca and Rimbaud are designed and illustrated primarily by Rolando Estévez. Many are collaged with cloth, leaves, or wood scraps, making them unique; some are made as scrolls for hanging.

The opening of Cuban Artists Books and Prints:1985-2009 will coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, but the intense independence of the works reveals the artists’ creative resilience and imaginative power to negotiate the political, social, and cultural difficulties and paradoxical privileges ruling their careers over the past two decades. Cuban cultural production in the 1990s disclosed a gaunt and threadbare state, and its newly adopted capitalist markets and greatly expanded commercial tourism required all citizens to navigate official social and economic policy changes as well as moral dilemmas. These works comment on daily existence, reflect awareness of international art currents, and draw on Cuban history and its traditional and popular cultures. Adaptation means making art despite privations, especially since the dissolution of the Soviet Union ended subsidies to Cuba.

Through Ediciones Vigía, young artists and writers took production into their own hands and, out of the need to make art, turned a very humble project into an elaborate production of sophisticated books. Remarkable formal invention, poignant poetry, and technical mastery of print media, especially with found materials, unite these delicate handmade works, which include books by once-censored or controversial national and international authors as well as children’s books and musical compositions. Most of the artists represented in the exhibition graduated from Cuba’s prestigious art academies, including the Higher Institute of Art (ISA) and the San Alejandro Art Academy, while a few went to technical or regional art academies. Their excellent, state-sponsored education and relative freedom to travel and sell works abroad are at odds with their sometimes critical commentary on life at home.

Among the artists represented: Danilo Moreno, trained in Trinidad, Cuba, who contributes his handmade My Book, which converts printed matter into a dress that is just as easily worn as read; prints by Ibrahim Miranda offer romantic, nostalgic views of the island or ironic interpretations of patriotism; for her book Jabberwocky, Sandra Ramos mixes excerpts from Lewis Carroll’s text and John Tenniel’s images with her own on pages facing foldout mirrors (where they must be read); on a doll whose clothing is printed with his texts, Carlos Estévez reflects on the artist’s journey to the core of the soul; the brothers Yoan and Iván Capote’s sculptured “CD” book from a paperback version of Cuba’s history in Chinese, titled Rewritable, is a metaphor for the constant rewriting of Cuban history in the face of ever-changing realities and complexities.

As a group, these artists and artisans expand the definitions of the book to express their fluctuating Cuban identities. Most of them have exhibited in Europe or Canada, but their work is little known in the United States, and their prints and books have been never been exhibited together, here—or anywhere.

Publication: The show will be accompanied by a 180 p. illustrated catalogue, available for purchase onsite at the Grolier Club. 

Lenders: Grolier Club members Leslie A. Garfield, Szilvia Szmuk-Tanenbaum, and Robert J. Ruben; Holly Block and Linda S. Howe; the Museum of Modern Art, the Grolier Club, and Wake Forest University; Ben Rodríguez Cubenas, Carole and Alex Rosenberg; and participating artists in show.

Sponsors and Collaborating Institutions: MoMA, New York, NY; The Grolier Club, New York, NY; The Reed Foundation, Inc., New York, NY; The Cuban Artists Fund, New York, NY; and Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, to which the exhibition will travel in fall 2009, following its New York debut. 

Related Events:

  • May 20, at MoMA: a symposium on Cuban Artists' Books will feature Cuban artists and Cuban specialists from lending institutions.
  • May 21, at the Grolier Club: Curator Linda S. Howe will speak about the exhibition, 6 pm. Reception follows. No charge.

Location and times: “Cuban Artists Books and Prints: 1985-2009” will be on public view at the Grolier Club from May 20 – August 1, 2009, with the exception of May 25 and July 4, when the Club is closed for the Memorial Day and Independence Day holidays.

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 AM - 5 PM. Open to the public free of charge. For more information call the Grolier Club at (212) 838-6690.  

For more background information on the exhibition,
along with representative images,
click here.

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