As his residency at the Massachusetts liberal arts college drew to a close, Eduardo Hernández Santos reflected on his time at Hampshire, his experiences with American students, and the artists whose work he discovered on this first trip to the United States.

Eduardo Hernández Santos, Corpus Fragile, 1997

Eduardo, tell us: how did you get to Hampshire?

I had access to Hampshire College through an exchange program with Cuba that the college has had for nearly ten years. They were looking for an advisor for a project on gender by a student there, Lucas Blair Simpson. They knew about my work, so they asked me to take this on. Thanks to Hampshire Professor Jackie Hayden and her husband, editor Steve Daiber of Red Trillium Press, whom I’ve known since 2006, I did four projects with the college. I’ve also lectured on Cuban art and consulted on other various student projects.

You are one of the few Cuban artists who address LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender) issues. Do you feel you belong to a creative minority?

I think so, as far as Cuba is concerned. There are few people in the Cuban artistic community committed to LGBT issues. Macho prejudices are quite strong in Cuban society, and influence the art. Certain artists may feel like addressing this issue, but cultural prejudices overwhelm their own creative interests. In Cuban photography, for example, in 1993 I was the first to do a show on a homoerotic theme. It was shown at the Cuban Photo Library and was curated by critic Juan Antonio Molina.

What have you been doing at Hampshire College?

I did an exhibition of my work: the lithographic series “Casos y Cosas de casa” (Themes and Things from the House), “Tipos y costumbres de la isla de Cuba” (Types and customs of the island of Cuba) and some photocollages from the series “Palabras” (Words) and “Strong.” I gave a lecture entitled “Light and Shadows,” with a chronological overview of my 21-year artistic output, and a talk on contemporary Cuban photography. I’ll offer a workshop on collage and cut-paper art on October 24, and for the college I’m creating a work based on my experiences in the U.S.

What’s it like to work with students at Hampshire? How does the artistic training of American students differ from that of Cubans?

My impression of Hampshire students is positive, and I relate to them is a friendly way. Many students have helped me with translations, accessing the technology and finding my way around the campus. That’s good; it helped created a climate of trust and confidence, which is necessary when it comes to learning.

From my perspective, there are two essential differences in the artistic training of Cubans and Americans. In Cuba, an art student is more likely to develop manual artistic skills: technology is not as sophisticated, or there’s no access to it. This makes students more independent, and more reliant on their own natural talent. Add to this to the shortage of suitable art materials, and you get profound creativity with very few resources.

In the U.S., I see that students develop a profound familiarity with digital technology and audiovisual media. That makes them very dependent on these tools, so they are less interested in developing their manual artistic skills. The second aspect to consider is the students’ experiences with art. In Cuba, the teaching of art history is done through digital pictures and books—our economy can’t afford to send students abroad to experience actual art elsewhere. So Cuban students have a more theoretical, reflective relationship with art. U.S. students have much more exposure to actual art, and can see it in various countries—for example, through the Hampshire program in Cuba. Cuban art students say, “I have read;” U.S. students can say, “I have seen.”

How was the series “The Wall” received in Hampshire´s liberal environment? Do you think the approach to LGBT issues in Cuba risks becoming somewhat naïve in foreign eyes?

It was well-received. I presented “The Wall” in Professor Jackie Hayden´s class and students asked many questions about it—about the work and also on the social environment in Cuba in which I make my work. As for LGBT becoming a “naïve issue” in foreign eiyes, that’s a risk for any issue related to the Cuban reality. But even in the U.S., the LGBT issue is not that prevalent in the visual arts. I think there’s still much to do and show about it.

After your stay at Hampshire, do you foresee reaching a new stage in your artistic output?

It’s possible. I have absorbed so much information and so many experiences that I need some time to process everything. Maybe later, I’ll be able to create new work as a result.

You also spent time in New York. What was your impression of the city—the museums and galleries, the people you met? What do you think about the local art scene? Any interesting artists?

The visit to New York was an extraordinary experience. It is a cosmopolitan city, full of cultural, racial, and stylistic diversity. It is very stimulating and dynamic. Everything about it is monumental, giant—from the buildings to the works of art. The museums are very comprehensive; they hold a unique contemporary heritage. I was particularly impressed by the works of Nan Goldin, Robert Mapplethorpe, Diane Arbus, Catherine Opie and George Platt Lines.