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Reynier Leyva Novo in Sin Autorización: Contemporary Cuban Art at Wallach Art Gallery

Date: October 21, 2022 - January 15, 2023

Curated By: Gwen A. Unger, Ph.D. candidate, Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University and Abel González Fernández,MA Candidate, Center for Curatorial Studies (CCS) at Bard College and independent curator.


Sin Autorización: Contemporary Cuban Art explores the political and intellectual context of the independent artistic scene in Cuba that emerged around 2016, and its many changes in the years following.

Over the last few decades, the contemporary art world in Cuba has undergone various changes including increases in the political and cultural agency of the artist, the emergence of unofficial “underground” exhibition spaces and practices, and surges of tourism and foreign interest in Cuban art. This exhibition traces the impact Obama’s second term had on contemporary art production on the island and its aftermath during the Trump years. 

At the end of President Obama’s second term the US government relaxed travel restrictions to Cuba and opened lines of communication with Raul Castro. This led to a brief, intense period of intermingling between Cuban artists, foreign collectors, and tourists seizing the opportunity to visit Havana. Referred to colloquially as obamismo, the effect of this change was a period filled with increasing hope and freedom of movement for Cubans. A Trump era return to stricter regulations coupled with increasing economic instability in Cuba ended the changing sensibilities of obamismo. While the succession of Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018 as president of Cuba was expected to continue the legacy of opening and potential democratization of Cuba, in fact, in April 2018 he signed El Decreto #349 (Decree 349), one of the harshest examples of policy and suppression of artistic practice in the last few years. Sin Autorización (without authorization):” takes its title from Decree 349’s ban of artwork made “without authorization.” It subverts the language of 349 while signifying that the work in the show itself is independent and outside of the "official" arts discourse of Cuba.

The exhibition emerged through an academic exchange between Columbia University and Havana that inspired a spirited dialogue between Cuban artists and American scholars.  The constellation of works gathered in the exhibition reflect the rich potential of such exchange alongside the vast network of personal ties and connections that fuels the Cuban art community. Demonstrating a variety of forms and concepts, the artists employ archival sources, performance, documentation and action, and expose the nuances of daily life in Cuba that are not reflected in official discourse. Together they relay how a young generation of Cuban artists experiments with culture and creates work that engages not only their current experience, but that of previous generations and the many theoretical discourses from the US, Europe and other parts of Latin America that reach Cuba unofficially. Specifically, the exhibition itself is a site for the collaborative, generous spirit amongst these artists, that continues to breathe life into Cuban art.  While as a group they experience a similar social and political condition, these artists cannot be easily defined or labeled: they  operate on their own terms, creating networks while still retaining individual subjectivities. This exhibition presents the works of a group of artists representing the complexity of cultural production in Cuba over the past several years, and the many ways artists exploit and negotiate their personal contexts. 

Artists include Luis Manuel, Yanelys Nuñez and Tania Bruguera, whose work reflects the potency of artistic exchange in Cuba even as the institution continues to fail artists; members of the youngest generation of artists in Cuba—Julio Llopiz-Casal, Hamlet Lavastaida, Leandro Feal and Kiko Faxas—whose work counters the rigid orthodoxy of the revolution and fills the voids of silence. Other confirmed artists include: Marco Castillo, Reynier Leyva Novo, Camila Ramírez, Lester Álvarez Meno, Celia - Yunior, Juan Carlos Alom, and Cristo-Salvador.