Cuban culture is known for its appreciation of the arts—and that extends to the individuals who create exhibitions and write about them.

For citizens of other countries, national awards for curatorship and art criticism may seem like an impossible ideal. But they’re an annual occurrence in Cuba, offering an insightful glimpse of the cultural currents that have shaped exhibitions and arts writing over the past year.

The 2018 winners of the Cuban national prizes in art criticism and curatorship
Courtesy La Jiribilla

Late last month, the Consejo Nacional de Artes Plásticas (CNAP, the National Council on Visual Arts) announced the 2018 prizes for art criticism and curatorship.

In the category of solo exhibition, the National Prize for Curatorship was awarded to Israel Castellanos León and Odalys Borges for Mar-tínez Pedro. El agua por todas partes (Water Everywhere).

Artist Luis Martínez Pedro (Havana, 1910–1989) was a member of the 1930s vanguard that included Amelia Peláez and Mariano Rodríguez. Presented at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes from July 12 to October 1, 2018, the exhibition focused on the artist’s sea-related works—starting with the pun on mar (sea) in its title.

«Mar-tinez Pedro. El agua por todas partes»
Courtesy Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana

Taking a multidisciplinary approach, the show included drawings, paintings, and ceramics, along with photographs, personal documents, literary texts and musical compositions.

The winners for group exhibition were Milton Raggi and Pavel Martínez for Und Nacht War—a one-night exhibition presented at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) by alumni of SenseLab, a series of international workshops on activating the senses. The more than two dozen participating artists included Alfredo Sarabia, Levi Orta, and Olivia Rodríguez.

«Und Nacht war» included work by more than two dozen artists
Courtesy SenseLab

There were two honorable mentions in the solo category, including Laura Arañó for Jesús de Armas: drama y utopia. It is the first museum retrospective of de Armas (San Antonio de los Baños, 1934–2002, France), who was also a scholar of the island’s pre-Columbian cultures and, in the 1960s, the first director of the animation studios at ICAIC. The show opened September 8 at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, where it closes November 11.

Jesús de Armas, «Sin título,» 1991
Courtesy Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana

The second honorable mention for solo exhibition went to Concha Fontenla, director and curator of Factoría Habana, for Índice de imágenes: José Manuel Mesías. The exhibition—presented in summer 2017 at Factoría Habana, and profiled in Cuban Art News—spotlighted an artist whose work offered an alternate reading of Cuba’s 19th-century past, especially the wars of independence.

A view of the exhibition «Índice de imágenes: José Manuel Mesías» from the second floor of Factoría Habana. In the foreground, «Cowrie with the Effigy of José Martí»; behind it, «Hortus conclusus,» Study of plants in the inferior half of the base painting; at rear, «Rectificaciones a la obra de Armando Menocal ‘La muerte de Maceo'» (Corrections to the work by Armando Menocal, ‘The Death of Antonio Maceo'»)
Courtesy Factoría Habana

There were three honorable mentions in the group-exhibition category. Drawn from CNAP’s collections, XXY: humo y espejos (XXY: Smoke and Mirrors) compared masculine and feminine perspectives in the creative process.

«When it came to choosing the works, it was very interesting to note that some pieces created by women seemed to reproduce masculine visions of reality; and others signed by men were somewhat feminine, if we were guided by clichés,” the exhibition curator María Karla Olivera Estupiñán told CubaSi. “At the end of it is about dynamiting all those schemes, which transcend the creative act. This expo is a game, a provocation … And I am sure that it relativizes the discourses on the role of the genre of the creator in the concretion of the work.» XXY ran July–September 2018 in the Sala Alejo Carpentier of the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso.

A view of the exhibition «XXY: humo y espejos» at the Gran Teatro
Courtesy Cuba Sí

Delia María López Campistrous—winner of the group exhibition award in 2016—was noted for Bicentenario de San Alejandro. Tradición y contemporaneidad, a salute to the San Alejandro art academy’s 200th anniversary, which ran June 29–September 9, 2018 at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Luis Rey Yero was also mentioned for the exhibition Orígenes.

The opening announcement for «Bicentenario de San Alejandro. Tradición y contemporaneidad» at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana
Courtesy MNBA, Havana

In the category of essay, the Premio Guy Pérez Cisneros for art criticism was awarded to Daniel Céspedes Góngora for his text “En deleitosa compañia” (In Delightful Company). Israel Castellanos León, co-winner in the solo exhibition category, was awarded the Cisneros prize in the articles category for “Otras iluminaciones para Marcelo Pogolotti” (Other Illuminations for Marcelo Pogolotti). Alain Cabrera Fernández, editor of the magazine Artecubano, was mentioned for his text, “Visado para entrar en la República Honolástica del Dermis Cromopilato. Una conversación en dos tiempos con Glauber Ballestero” (Visa to Enter the Honolástica Republic. A Conversation in Two Times with Glauber Ballestero).