Last November, I went to Havana with a bunch of HR professionals. We had an excursion to the National Museum of Fine Arts, which houses an impressive collection of Cuban art.
Lots of good stuff in there. If you’re in Havana, check it out. I wasn’t there long enough to truly appreciate the accumulation of Cuba’s greatest artworks, but I enjoyed the tour.
Some of my colleagues were impressed with what they saw and wanted to buy artwork to bring home. Unfortunately, there are strict export laws from Cuba. Americans can’t just purchase a painting and leave the island. You need permission to go home with artwork of any kind.
I didn’t understand the implications of the law until we toured smaller art galleries and realized that everybody in Cuba is an artist. The government subsidizes an underemployed society where people can explore their creativity, which means that the bad art per capita is off the charts.
We spent a day walking around a colony called Las Terrazas, and another touring ArteCorte, a neighborhood that is home to hair salons that also serve as galleries. Yes, you can get your hair cut surrounded by artwork in Cuba.
It was interesting to see how many of the local artists are influenced by Western European and American “masters.” I can also see how Cubans are trying to reclaim an Afro-Caribbean identity that’s been stolen from them. Makes sense.
But what I really see is how an American embargo left Cuba so impoverished that an authoritarian regime pays its citizens to make art because it’s incapable — and maybe afraid — of making entrepreneurs.
Phew, art! Lots of complicated stuff has been happening behind the scenes to create a culture where people are okay with Fidel Castro, food rations, and bad cat sculptures.
So let’s just say I wasn’t going to violate the export laws and sneak any Cuban art home.
I’m jealous. I grew up in Puerto Rico in the 1960s and early 1970s. I hope to go back someday and I’d LOVE to visit Cuba. From what I hear, it resembles Puerto Rico in the time I grew up there.