HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 7.- The security guard at the entrance to the rotating exhibit hall of the Cuban National Museum of Fine Arts has a new mission: inspect the faces of the visitors to make sure that 15 to 17 year-olds don’t enter the hall. Why? Because the exposition being shown there under the title: “Erotica: Sexuality and Eroticism” is only for adults (18 years or older).
The X rating could surprise people and provokes questions: Isn’t Cuba a country where, like many nations of the Caribbean, you breathe sex and sensuality everywhere? Why should a simple art exposition be off-limits to minors if in their junior high schools sex education classes include biological and explicit explanations about genitals, sexual contact and STDs.
Although valid, both questions err by stereotypes, since the spaces for visual communication in Cuba are not very open to sexual themes, nor does this art exhibition seem at all “modest.”
The show is the largest exposition of erotic art ever in Cuba, and is sponsored by the National Fine Arts Museum and the Center for Sex Education (Cenesex – wwwcenesex.sld.cu), a non-governmental organization led by Mariela Castro Espin, daughter of President Raul Castro. Cenesex has played a key role in the public debate on sexual issues.
Sex and nudes are a near constant in Cuban cinema. Cuban literature of the 90s and the so-called “dirty realism” includes detailed descriptions of copulation, fellatio, masturbation and ejaculation; in theater it’s common to see nudes on the stage. Sexual scenes are also common in Cuban painting and sculpture.
But the other side of the coin is that films with sexual issues are almost never put on television. Oscar nominee Strawberry and Chocolate (1993) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fresa_y_Chocolate– wasn’t shown on Cuban TV until 2007; erotic paintings and sculpture are warehoused in the basements of museums or diluted in expositions amid a sea of canvases; and only a small portion of the population reads the explicit novels or goes to the theater.
And don’t even mention pornographic materials, such as magazines and movies, on the Internet. According to unofficial estimates less than two percent of the population has access to the Internet and those that do face severe prohibitions regarding material that “goes against the moral and good habits” of the country.
Only in that context can the novelty represented by such an exposition at the Fine Arts Museum be understood alongside the moralist precaution to limit the entrants to adults 18 and over.
Several expressions of the visual arts are present in the show: painting, engraving, sculpture, collage, ceramics, video art, installation and photography. Maximo Gomez Noda is the curator of the show that is divided into four sections: Classic Art, Pre-Colombian, Universal and Cuban.
Classic Art, Pre-Columbian and Universal
On the walls at the entrance of the museum hall with the “Erotica: Sexuality and Eroticism” exhibit, copies of African and European paintings welcome the visitor. One might think that the rest of the exposition could be so innocent as these simple line silhouettes of men copulating with sheep and women… but as you advance into the hall that first impression is left behind.
Works of universal and ancient art show stylized hetaera -a type of Greek Geisha- pursued by satyrs with erect phalluses, nude bodies, scenes where men pay for sexual services, or compete for the sexual favors of a hetaera.
There are also Chinese works and a showing of slippers used by the women whose feet were bound tight to avoid their growth, considered a leading source of arousal in the culture of that period.
The Pre-Columbian section features reproductions of ceramic Mochica sculptures dating back from 1500 BC to 500 AD., representing oral and anal sex and dogs penetrating women. The Mochica ceramics are famous for showing this type of scene, since the Peruvian tribes believed that the world of the dead was the opposite of the living, and therefore, their funeral offerings included pots showing sexual acts that didn’t result in pregnancies. They hoped that the world of the dead would have a significant opposite reaction and lead to fertility for the living.
However, the 50 pieces of Cuban art are the main attraction of the show.
The works come from the halls and basements of the museum and from private collections. Seeing these little known works of the most famous Cuban painters of all time invites one to ask: “Are these works outside the regular exposition circuit because of matters of artistic quality, available space or are they censured to not sully the idolized impeccable image of Cuban artists?” These doubts assail the frequent visitor to the museum when looking at the erotic works of renowned Cuban painters such as Carlos Enriquez (1900-1957), Rene Portocarrero (1912-1985) and Servando Cabrera (1923-1981) -to whom this show is dedicated.
In the show we find numerous nudes, sex scenes, ejaculations, homosexual eroticism, sadomasochism, group sex and masturbations. There is even the curious case of “fitofilia” or sex with plants, in the painting by Fernando Rodriguez titled “Amor con Banana Tree” (1997), in the farmer with his hat and dark glasses penetrating a banana tree with his penis.
In the video-art format there are three works: Calentamiento (warming up) (2005), a video-projection in black and white where artists Humberto Dias and Amalia Amaya, completely nude, do repeated gymnastic exercises in tandem for 11 minutes. Another work is from Humberto Diaz titled Still Life (2007) and shows footage of a still nude woman in different postures during 75 minutes.
The third projection is titled “Dimensiones Variables” (2008) by Javier Castro, Luis Garciga and Gretell Rasua. The 1.43 minute video includes answers to a video survey on the streets of Havana where the artists ask women to describe with their hands the size of penis they prefer.
These and many other works will be on display until February 15, 2009 at the Universal Art building of the National Fine Arts Museum near Havana’s Central Park. It’s an opportunity you shouldn’t miss, if you are over 18, of course.