From January 27 through February 1, 2015, a group of seventeen Patron Program members joined Al Miner, assistant curator of Contemporary Art, for an MFA Travel tour to Cuba. Traveler Stacey Weaver recounts a tale from their journey:
“Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho,” repeated over and over by a compact man dressed in a tight turquoise top and azalea-pink pants, snapping his fingers and walking among about 25 young dancers moving to the beat. We watched from one end of a long studio with a wooden floor and windows revealing palm trees outside, a far cry from the blizzard we’d left in Boston. The dancers ranged from a pale redhead to bittersweet chocolate and were dressed in a creative mix of T-shirts, hoodies, tights and sweats, some with one leg cut off. As they went through their exercises, first standing and then on the floor, the dance master gently poked them to correct their positions. Then the music started, a combo of hand drums and an electrifying island chant, and the troupe went through several numbers while we stood wide-eyed on the sidelines, feeling the rhythm, tapping our toes and trying not to break into our own dance. This was our private viewing of a practice session of the Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, known for its hybrid style, an exciting blend of Afro-Cuban, American jazz and European ballet. The immediate consensus was that we wanted to see more, so director Miguel Inglesias, who had a 47-year career in dance, invited us back two days later to watch a rehearsal of a new show called “Day of Love,” scheduled to open on February 14. By the end of the run-through, we were in love with the whole troupe, especially a wiry, white-haired 80-year-old, who is one of Cuba’s best “rumberos.”
There is much joy in Cuba and, contrary to what we expected, the attitude of the people toward the “Revolucion” is complicated. We learned this in three superb lectures on Cuban history, economy and art, and we experienced it in up-close-and-personal talks with local artists. These are the country’s rock stars, earning more money and recognition than doctors or lawyers and relatively immune to censorship. We spent a fascinating afternoon in the studio of Yoan Capote, whose art is a journey inside the psyches of his countrymen. We chatted with three 30-something artists, who share a studio lined with their paintings, photographs and sculptures and who travel abroad to exhibit and sell their work. We dined at the home of Sandra Ramos, famous for her criticism of Cuban political tactics, expressed in images of herself as a child. And we met the creative engine of the next generation at the Ludwig Foundation and the Instituto Superior des Artes. Through it all we learned about how an institution like the MFA evaluates and collects contemporary art, thanks to curator and artist Al Miner.
While the 19 of us “gringos” discovered Cuba together, we also discovered each other. In conversations over dinner, strolls through Old Havana and rounds of diluted daiquiris at the Floridita, Hemingway’s favorite bar, we learned about our fellow travelers and made connections that will survive long after the trip. The ultimate bonding experience was a ride to dinner through the streets of Havana in a convoy of GM, Ford and Chrysler’s finest convertibles from the 1950s and ’60s. Did we have fun, or what?