A Recurring Character in Cuba’s History

Francisco Castro

Around 2,000 people managed to enter the La Acacia gallery on opening day.

HAVANA TIMES — In the History of Cuba — spanning a mere half-millennium — one character keeps popping up between the silence and the whispers. It catches its breath and then slips back behind the scenes of an adverse scenario. From the shadows, it has added its grain of sand to the formation of the Cuban nationality. This character is the homosexual.

Official history has completely omitted the presence of Cuban homosexuals in the unfolding of national events. This is so true that today we can’t even speak of a true homosexual movement, despite isolated attempts to make non-hetero normative thinking visible. Therefore we find it unconnected, like it is in other Latin American countries like Chile, Mexico and Argentina.

Art, with its characteristic irreverence, is at the forefront of these efforts – and at the forefront of artistic expression are literature and the visual arts. Both have had uneven development in general, and specifically with regard to the subject of homosexuality, which conforms to a country where at its core lies not the irregular, but the paradoxical.

With respect to the visual arts, this uneven development resulted in a collective exhibition held from January 18 to February 28, 2013, in one of the most prestigious galleries of Havana: La Acacia. This facility is located in an area that’s popular with tourists and therefore it’s a center for the convergence of many of the varied “urban tribes” that interact in the underworld of the Cuban capital.

The exhibition’s title itself was a challenge to the public, as was the call made by the curator, Piter Ortega, to the artists involved in this show. The exhibit “Sex in the City” reminded us, firstly, of the American HBO series, Sex and the City (1998-2004), for its sexual anthropology. The series was a story about the sexual adventures of four women in New York, analyzing concepts such as the modern female.

ESCUDO (2012) by Jorge Ortega

In the case of the exhibition, it explores homoeroticism in modern Cuban art, specifically in its urban manifestations. Its 32 pieces by 25 artists mixed painting, photography and video, while established and emerging artists interacted – some of whom never having worked on that issue before.

At the entrance of the gallery, a sign warned us: “This exhibition contains images that may harm your sensitivities…suitable to people over 18 years of age.”

The art was irreverent and acted upon people’s sensitivities in different manners. Those who actively appreciate art know in advance that anything is possible when one is exposed to its influence, but that’s certainly the case with anything that leads to spiritual gratification and enrichment.

Therefore art that’s more homoerotic has an explosive mixture. Yet, there’s nothing to fear. This explosion doesn’t kill people; instead, it shows them a path.

I think the goal of an exhibit like “Sex in the City” is simply to amaze. Yes, because we are animals of this island. We’re isolated. It’s “the damned circumstance of water everywhere,”1 as water comes up to our chests and then threatens to continue covering us up completely, and to wash us away.

We are full of prejudices, having gaps in our knowledge, being distant from everything and everyone, being closed to the world, locked in our own fears and those of others. We share our fears and we multiply them. Such underdevelopment makes us go through life blind, stumbling. We are then very impressionable, sadly naïve and absurdly silly. It’s our karma.

Therefore the goal is reached, and it’s good that something like this happens. We’re many years behind, and to change this we’ll have to take the first step, and the second, and the third step… For a long time we’ve tried to carry on this way. There have been many first steps. There have been many things, and there are people who have made this struggle a central goal in their lives.

But it’s not enough. Something’s wrong, something’s not being done as it should. Somehow gay Cubans don’t feel properly represented. Even today, Cuba is a country that’s hostile toward homosexuals, from every point of view, and this hostility needs to be eliminated at its base: society.

To make a real impact on society, we must work consistently. One can’t let the issue cool down. We can’t remember only one time a year that homosexuals exist, when we celebrate World Day in the Struggle Against Homophobia.

Likewise, art can’t be the only means for constantly championing our visibility and recognizing people who love those of the same sex. This can’t continue being a whisper. That has to be converted into a voice – into a scream!

I don’t believe in tepid efforts. Revolutions aren’t made with tender caresses. The Cuban Revolution didn’t ask permission to unfold. It acted directly from its grassroots base to solve a problem that affected the vast majority of the population, to the detriment of a few.

The cracker.

Homophobia is a problem. It’s a violation of human rights. It’s a crime. Therefore, we must fight against homophobia because it hurts and does so much harm to those who are victims of it, as well as to those who practice it.

No one is going to get hurt in the fight against homophobia. This is a war in which everyone wins. It’s therefore fair to carry out a revolution to achieve this goal…both in Cuba and around the world. Without asking permission.

On the Cuban scene, Sex in the City has to be the rule – not the exception.

Cuba (and when I say Cuba, I mean Cubans) has to again win the title of the world’s most beautiful land. This exceptional place has to again find the path to the wonderful. Right now I think we’re far from achieving this. The winds aren’t exactly in our favor. But where there was fire, ashes remain, and this exhibit showed us that the flames haven’t gone out completely.

Never as before has freedom been more necessary, and Cuba has plenty experience in the search for it. The issue, then, must be not to give up. The goal: Rewriting history.


[1] Virgilo Piñera: “La isla en peso,” in La isla en peso. Ed. Union. Havana, Cuba, 2011.


One thought on “A Recurring Character in Cuba’s History

  • Hello Francisco. Seems you`re pretty negative.I have some homosexual friends in Cuba and I felt that they were widely accepted and that in general it was less of a problem than in many other countries, although the legal situation still is not as favourable ( like legal union or marriage). Maybe I´m wrong,but as I said, I never have experienced anything negative in this sense.Sure, a big step forward would be, if Cuba would allow also gay marriage or something like that, but otherwise what I saw of “gay” Cuba, seemed to be very tolerant to me.

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