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Culture, Art

Amelia Pelaez, Wifredo Lam, Jose Nicolas, Cuban art, social types

Cuban painting began in earnest in the 18th century with such artists as Jose Nicolas de la Escalera and Vicente Escobar. Late 18th- and early 19th-century artists were influenced by newly developed European and American printing techniques in lithography, a process that reproduced paintings cheaply. Suddenly the middle class was able to afford art, and artists created works for a new audience. Costumbrismo, an art form that satirized social types within Cuban society, was particularly popular beginning in the 1840s and 1850s. Victor Patricio de Landaluze, a painter and cartoonist, is the most recognized artist of this type. His oil paintings and watercolors stereotype the farmer, landowner, slave, and Afro-Cuban santeros (religious practitioners). Romantic landscape painting also characterized this period and idealized nationalism not in political terms but in an attachment to the islandís natural habitat.

With the introduction of European avant-garde styles in the 1920s and 1930s, a new generation of painters, such as Victor Manuel, Eduardo Abela, and Carlos Enriquez, concerned themselves with black and mulatto components of Cuban society. Their interests complemented anthropologist Fernando Ortizís argument that Afro-Cuban culture formed the distinguishing aspect of Cuban identity. Other painters, such as Fidelio Ponce de Leon or Aristides Fernandez, followed a different path by depicting certain dramatic or religious aspects of the human condition. Post-1930s painters such as Amelia Pelaez, Rene Portocarrero, and Mariano Rodriguez were linked to the literary group of Origenes and depicted modern, abstract variations of typically Cuban architecture features, such as domestic interiors, stained glass windows, and church facades.

During the 1950s a new group of painters, known as El Grupo de los 11, challenged the aesthetics of the former masters by introducing the abstract tendency with emphasis on geometric form and color rather than realism. Wifredo Lam worked most of his life in Paris and was influenced by Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, but he returned to Cuba in 1966 after the revolution to become a master teacher. His works incorporated surrealism while often featuring Afro-Cuban images.

After the 1959 revolution a number of painters left Cuba and established themselves mainly in Madrid and Paris. However, younger generations of artists both in Cuba and in exile introduced new and exciting dimensions to Cuban art. Between 1960 and 1980 much of Cuban art, particularly poster art, portrayed positive images of the revolution. Artists used simple materials to compose images of heroic sacrifice and military battles that brought socialism to the Americas and the world.

In the 1980s, as the problems of the revolutionary experiment became increasingly clear to most Cubans, a generation of artists in the island produced blatant criticism of the government. Their works derided incompetence, corruption, and hopelessness, and they even depicted scenes of torture, escape, and suicide. Many of these artists eventually chose exile over remaining in Cuba. In the 1990s Cuban artists attempted to travel abroad to learn contemporary styles. Their art often reflected their individual responses to isolation and frustration as well as the difficulties of daily life, which was a less theoretical, but no less serious, denunciation of the government.

Article key phrases:

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