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Sex in the City at La Acacia, Havana

Sex in the City at La Acacia, Havana

For those of us who systematically follow Cuban art, 2013 brought a unique pleasure: the exhibition Sex in the City, which opened on January 18 at La Acacia Gallery. Brilliantly curated by Píter Ortega, the show includes works by *25 Cuban contemporary artists, who present a compelling look into the new homoerotic expressions in Cuba.

When you come into the gallery, two hands (Unidos, Jorge Lopez Pardo, 2012) symbolically invite us to enter, with no masks on, into a universe that is more than ready to put forward its substance at any price, without an ounce of shyness. Different generations of artists stamp an amazing variety of nuances to the same topic.

The homoerotic subject in Cuban art tends to have certain peculiarities that enrich the visual quality, and are related to the heritage of an erotic reality filled with conflicts and unresolved issues, which have eventually turned the process of mutations into a more civilized sexuality in its long and winding road.

Perhaps what I most admire in Píter Ortega when conceiving the exhibition is that he never intended to be complaisant. Quite the contrary. He seeks (matter-of-factly, radically, irreverently) to get to the depths of a subject that by nature is complicated in a macho society like ours. And he doesn’t let up. Eroticism and pornography melt into a close embrace. Most likely, the critical point of this tone is evident in the piece called The Cookie (Stainless, 2012), a performance combined with photographs in which a group of young men masturbate on top of a cookie, which is then eaten by one of the participants, who never stops savoring the semen as if it were a trophy.

Photography and painting play the leading roles here, although photography seems to have the upper hand. Its own testimonial nature gives it an expressive quality that helps it reach the viewer in less amount of time than other kinds of images, in which the digestive process is slower. It could also be said that in the past 15 years, Cuban photography has occupied a significant position within the visual arts. As part of its conceptual maturity, photography has probed complex and thorny issues, including homoeroticism. Its view has no doubt been sincere and straightforward, so much so that in most cases it has eventually dragged us down to that healthy place called controversy.

Sex in the city will remain for some time in the memory of many us who have visited La Acacia Gallery these past two months. The works exhibited here will surely haunt us for some time to come.

As to what it all means—at the least, for all Cuba’s machismo and past government discouragement of the gay community—the LGBT community in Cuba is now not just tolerated but actively involved in some of the most dynamic and provocative arts and cultural projects. And, strangely, for a country whose citizens are famously politically incorrect, there seems actually far more acceptance and interest and far less outrage than you could imagine in many countries. 

*The lineup features such internationally recognized artists as Roberto Fabelo, Rocío García, Duvier del Dago, Humberto Díaz, René Peña, Jorge López Pardo, and Adonis Flores, as well as younger artists whose work is emerging in art-world circuits: Lancelot Alonso, Stainless, Yenisley Yanes, Tai Ma Campos, Álvaro José Brunet, William Acosta and Julio Ferrer, among others.
March 2013

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