Thursday, April 6, 2017

Cuba sí, racism no!

Cuba sí, racism no!

CAMBRIDGE — The Afro-Cuban painter Juan Roberto Diago came of age in the
1990s in the midst of a firestorm. The collapse of the Soviet Union
devastated Cuban trade and the island's economy suffered a teeth-jarring
blow. Famine followed. Social unrest was inevitable.

Hardship wrenched open racial divides. Still, as late as 1997, President
Fidel Castro said that in Cuba — a country that until 1886 had benefited
from slavery — racial discrimination had been eradicated.

"Diago: The Pasts of This Afro-Cuban Present," at Harvard's Ethelbert
Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art, charts the career of
an artist who decries racism in a country that has largely denied it exists.

Fury drives the early works. That's understandable in the face of
stonewalling, and Diago was hollering into a void. He used simplified
figures, graffiti, and aggressive marks to get his message across. The
painting "Aquí Nadie Gana (Nobody Wins Here)" (at right) depicts a
figure outlined in red and yellow with one eye in the shape of a cross.
The background looks scorched; the piece reads like a sizzling brand.

The artist matured and his message deepened, thanks to an increasingly
poetic use of materials. In slats of found wood covering the entryway to
the gallery, the installation "De la Serie El Rostro de la Verdad (From
the series The Face of Truth)" lucidly summons the textures of
shantytowns where many poor black Cubans live.

The more abstract Diago's work gets, the more power it carries. In the
minimalist "De La Serie La Piel que Habla, No. 4 (From the Series: The
Skin that Speaks, No. 4)" he binds a black canvas in strips of pale
fabric, which might represent scars, barbed wire, or bandages.

If Diago's earlier, more expressionistic art has the immediacy of blood
on the canvas, his later evocation of scars is more poignant. Covered up
or not, oppression leaves an indelible mark.


At Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African &
African American Art, Harvard University,
102 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge, through May 5. 617-496-5777,

Cate McQuaid can be reached at Follow her
on Twitter @cmcq.

Source: Cuba sí, racism no! - The Boston Globe -

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