Remember Cuba’s ‘Volumen Uno’ Exhibit

Yanelys Nuñez Leyva

HAVANA TIMES — On January 14, when marking the anniversary of the 1981 inauguration of the exhibit “Volumen Ono,” I tried to imagine what would be the best way to pay tribute to this ground breaking exhibition. It is one that serves as a milestone in the history of the visual arts in Cuba.

Good choices might have been a lecture series or a panel discussion, but — from my humble position— all I was able to do was devote a few words to it:

“Volumen Uno” was unveiled at what was then the Havana International Arts Centre (located on San Rafael Street), where this involved a group of young people who weren’t over 25 years of age.

Among those young people were Flavio Garciandia, Tomas Sanchez, Jose Manuel Fors, Jose Bedia, Gustavo Perez, Ricardo Rodriguez, Leandro Soto, Israel Leon, Juan Francisco Elso, Ruben Torres and Rogelio “Gory” Lopez Marin.

The imprint of this exposition was evident in different realms, breaking with traditions that ranged from how works were promoted and displayed in galleries, to how the topics and issues to be addressed by the artists were selected.

The late Cuban scholar Rufo Caballero*explained that “the most transcendent legacy of the exhibit was investigation as a premise of artistic work and the act of creation in the process of cognition, where there can be found both its beginning and its end.”

Thus, “Volumen Uno” was held up as a banner of an era (the 1980s) and of a generation driven by a pioneering spirit. They looked at their heroes, their history and their lives from a new prism, one that was profoundly Cuban but universal at the same time.

The richness and variety of styles that came together in that exhibit (abstract expressionism, neo-figuration, pop art, conceptual art, etc.) led catalog author Gerardo Mosquera to say: “All of them (the creators) were sensitive to the latest directions in the search for the evolution of art. Based on this, they tried to speak for themselves, since they believed that aesthetic language has to march to the beat of its own time.”

Undoubtedly “Volume Uno” constituted a phenomenon of rupture with the past, a shock to the visual arts and to artistic thinking. It was a setting for experimentation and challenge.

* Rufo Caballero. La decada prodigiosa. Published in the magazine Caiman Barbudo, Havana, August, 1990, 12-15.