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In Cuba, New Generation of Artists Is Drawn to the Taboo

Art: The group known as 'mala hierba,' or bad weed, is hailed on the island even as it critiques daily life.


Ceballos' "Adorado Wolfli," for example, depicts an abstract geometric scene, full of cylinders, squares, and lines done in no particular order. The work is named after Swiss painter Adolf Wolfli, who was insane. On top of the drawing she has inscribed a speech plucked from the mind of what appears to be a rambling maniac. The maniac is Castro--the text is taken verbatim from newspaper accounts of his three- and four-hour public speeches.

"It is the text of an obsessive personality, as if I put myself in the mind of this fanatical personality," she said. "It happens to be a speech given by Fidel."

In this periodo especial (special period)--as the post-Soviet era has come to be called--the ideals of socialism have been derailed, and the art of commerce has prevailed.

The artists acknowledge that they are an elite group, allowed to travel and make a living off their art. Curator Power, who has taught art in Havana's art school Instituto Superior de Arte for seven years, said the island has become a virtual "hunting ground for the new breed of global curator."

"The artist has mobility, a certain margin of tolerance, a status and cash," Power writes in an essay on Cuban art. "You only have to compare, for example, the price of the work of a young artist in the international market--between $2,000 and $5,000--and the monthly salary of a university professor--$28 a month. This gap is made even more acute by the fact that most Cubans literally invent their economy day by day."

On their visits abroad, the artists horde paint, brushes, film, batteries, everything and anything they might need to continue with their art at home.

"Cubans are tenacious," Douglas Perez said. "Since our backs have always been sort of up against the wall, we live by improvisation."


* The exhibit will continue through Aug. 28 at Track 16, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Building C1, Santa Monica. (310) 264-4678.

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