In a country as racially diverse as Cuba, it is surprising that for a long time Afro-Cuban art was not considered desirable. After the revolution, Santeria and other African religious and cultural practices were deemed primitive and counter-revolutionary. This was particularly the case in the 1970s, during a period of severe censorship in all areas of the island’s artistic and cultural life.
In 1978, a group of artists rebelled against state censorship and formed an art collective under the name Grupo Antillano. Although the group has only been active for five years, it has helped make Afro Cuban art a part of national identity. Most of the members of the group were painters – Adelaida Herrera Valdés, Julia Valdés, Manuel Mendive, Leonel Morales, Miguel Lobaina, Ever Fonseca, Clara Morera, Manuel Couceiro Prado, Arnaldo Rodríguez Larrinaga, Pablo Toscano Mora, Miguel Ocejo, and sculptors – Herminio Escalona Gonzales, Rogelio Rodríguez Cobas, Ramón Haití, Rafael Queneditt Morales, Alberto Lescay Merencio, Oscar Rodríguez Lasseria, with Esteban Ayala Ferrer working mainly in graphic design. The main driving force behind this collective of artists was Wilfredo Lam, a world-renowned painter of African and Chinese origin. The first Grupo Antillano exhibition took place in September 1978 at the Galería Centro de Arte Internacional, and seven more will follow in the same year. Over the next four years, the group exhibited across Cuba and internationally. Shortly after Lam’s death in September 1982, Grupo Antillano ceased to exist as an artist collective and their last group show was a tribute to Wilfredo Lam in September 1983.
A retrospective exhibition under the name “Drapetomanía: Grupo Antillano and Afro-Cuban Art”, organized by Harvard professor Alejandro de la Fuente, inaugurated in Santiago de Cuba in April 2013, continued in Havana in August of the same year in the spring of 2014 will be exhibited in New York, in the fall of 2014 in San Francisco and in the spring of 2015 at Harvard University. In addition to showcasing the works of the original members of the Grupo Antillano, the exhibition also includes works from a younger generation of artists who share the same concerns with the original members – questions of history, identity and race. . The group of contemporary artists invited to participate in this retrospective includes Belkis Ayón, José Bedia, Eduardo Roca Salazar (Choco), Juan Roberto Diago, Douglas Pérez, Elio Rodríguez Valdés, Alexis Esquivel, Andrés Montalván Cuéllar, Santiago Rodríguez Olazabal, René Peña , Marta María Pérez Bravo and Leandro Soto.
All these artists – the original members of Grupo Antillano, as well as contemporary Afro-Cuban artists, help promote this important aspect of Cuban national identity, in the visual arts and in everyday life. Through their art, strongly influenced by the African roots of many Cubans, they show us the essence of the unique and constantly evolving. Cubanidad*.
* A concept born in the 1920s to explain the multicultural and multicolored people of Cuba.