May 6th, 2024

Unveiling of Unsung at Miami International Fine Arts

By MoCA-Americas Team

On Saturday, May 4th, 2024, the collective exhibition "Unsung: Art Dismissed by the Official Cuban Cultural Establishment" was inaugurated in one of the halls of the Miami International Fine Arts, in collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Americas. The showcase, comprised of fifteen canvases, six photographs, four bronze sculptures, and twenty-eight original ceramic plates, stands as a modest testament to the efforts of entrepreneur, collector, and cultural promoter Leonardo Rodríguez to provide Cuban artists in South Florida with opportunities and spaces to exhibit their work regularly.

On July 15, 2016, Leonardo inaugurated the then Kendall Art Center (KAC) with the exhibition "Beyond the Collector's Cabinet," curated by Raisa Clavijo, featuring pieces from his personal collection. Over the course of nearly years, KAC opened 76 exhibitions to the public, both solo and group shows, many of which were held in museums and related institutions across the United States.

Some of the works showcased at that inaugural event are now on display once again at the Miami International Fine Arts. "Unsung" is a condensed version of "Artescondido," one of the most significant curatorial projects of the new Museum of Contemporary Art of the Americas. This initiative aims to shed light on art created by Cuban artists outside the island that has been ignored for decades by the official Cuban state art institution. This circumstance is not exclusive to the visual arts. In music, for example, figures like Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefan, Arturo Sandoval, Paquito de Rivera, Bebo Valdés, and José María Cano, among many others, continue to be absent from mainstream media.

Visual artists on the island have found ways to study the work of their counterparts in the diaspora. Influential and charismatic creators such as Ana Mendieta, Carmen Herrera, Tomás Esson, Agustín Cárdenas, Gina Pellón, Luis Cruz Azaceta, and many others are not entirely unknown to newer generations. Works by almost all of them are part of the Rodriguez Collection, the foundation of the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Americas. Leonardo Rodríguez pays particular attention to living artists, those who have accompanied his efforts since the founding of the Kendall Art Center and whose work he regularly exhibits in his closest projects. One of the Museum's objectives is precisely to showcase and promote their work, not only that of his compatriots but also of many others from different countries who live and work in South Florida.

The exchanges with prestigious local institutions such as MIFA aim to bring the poetic vision of artists who create outside their homeland to new audiences who share their condition as immigrants. The city of Miami has emerged from migration, and its artistic expression is fundamentally marked by this reality.

A distinctive aspect of the Cuban artist's experience is the oppressive shadow of silence that accompanies exile. Cuban art dealers and merchants prioritize art produced on the island, perhaps because they view it as a mark of authenticity. They tend to pay less attention to art produced outside of Cuba. However, with the departure of a large number of artists trained in Cuban academies, this landscape is slowly but inevitably changing. It is becoming increasingly imprudent to disregard art primarily gestating in the United States, Spain, Mexico, and Brazil. Ignoring it would lead to a partial and incomplete understanding of a phenomenon already complex enough—the mere coexistence of expressions—sometimes antagonistic—produced in vastly different contexts.

On the other hand, the collection of Cuban art at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Americas follows a generational chronology. It treasures pieces produced from the early avant-gardes to those brought by newly arrived artists who have already settled on American soil. Rodriguez's relationship with these pieces reflects his close bond with their creators. Over the years, a family of artists has formed around the museum, where they can systematically share their experiences, creations, and projects. Perhaps the underlying statement of this exhibition is grounded in this reality.

"Unsung" is also an act of justice, a meeting point, a celebration. It is a tribute to exiled artists, to those in emigration, to the tenacity of the Cuban spirit, to the passion and perseverance of Leonardo, seen as a symbol of Cuban entrepreneurship and collecting. The Kendall Art Center was his material expression, leaving behind a family of artists, a beautiful collection that continues to grow with the same passion, now guided by many emerging and established artists from all the Americas.

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