Fisher Museum director Selma Holo was not expecting to purchase a single piece of art when she traveled to Cuba with a group of contemporary art collectors, but her trip ended up inspiring an entire exhibit.
"¡Cuba!," one of two exhibits at the USC Fisher Museum of Art this fall semester, opened its doors to the public on Tuesday, coinciding with the recent restoration of U.S. relations with the island nation. The exhibit includes seven works Holo purchased on her trip, as well as Cuban works lent by other artists.
"Situ-acciones," by Dionisio González, greets visitors and introduces the exhibit's theme of memory. The two side-by-side prints juxtapose Cuba's classical, romanticized buildings with modern architecture.
"Looking at the comparisons between old-classical architecture and something that is modern and clean and fresh, you get this sense of what people go to see and what the memories and the truth of the exhibition are," said Education and Programs Coordinator Ani Mnatsakanyan.
Memory is also depicted in Frank Mujica's "Crane Behind the Wall," which initially looks like a photograph, but is actually sketched by hand. Above it hangs Alejandro Campins' "Casa: Troya"– a photograph of a house taken through broken glass.
"It's almost like you're looking at this house but there's almost something blocking your vision," Mnatsakanyan said. "In a sense, that's what memory does to us. We see bits and pieces of things but only through this broken glass, the way we remember it, but not exactly the way it would have been."
A neon sign lit up with the word, "¡Cuba! " in the exhibit's first room symbolizes the censorship imposed by the Cuban government for years. In the 1960s, the neon signs that lit up Havana for decades were removed because of their association with American consumerism. These signs are just now being restored through the Havana Light project.
"American Music,"a painting of 1950s swing dancers by Juan Moreira, also highlights the country's censorship. The reference to Cuba's neighbor and former rival represents how far away the United States' influence was despite its geographic proximity.
"All signs and anything American was taken down," Mnatsakanyan said. "It's very interesting to develop this print that depicts an advertisement for American music."
Aimée García depicts Cuba's relationship with the rest of the world in "Connection"– a painting of two women facing each other on a background of Cuban newspapers. Each woman wears a symbolic hat made of yellow-colored pages taken from foreign publications.
"Their two hats represents newspapers from overseas–the news that was probably censored because they were not able to receive accurate information other than what was given to them by the Cuban government," Mnatsakanyan said.
Mnatsakanyan says she hopes the new exhibit will create a conversation among visitors in light of other current events.
"There is so much going on in the political atmosphere with American politics and what's going on with the rest of the world," she said. "We want people to come in and experience the exhibition themselves. We want them to experience these pieces themselves and create conversations with their loved ones. We're always here and open to extend that conversation as well."
Reach reporter Katie Giacobbe here.