Isbel Díaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES — More and more closets are being torn open across the island, to the ultimate benefit of Cuban culture. This past Saturday (June 20) saw the inauguration of an art exhibition showing a collection of homoerotic drawings by renowned Cuban painter Servando Cabrera Moreno (1923-1981).
Thirty-four drawings, most of them unpublished, make up the aptly-titled series “The Epiphany of the Body” (“Epifanía del cuerpo”), a collection of daring pieces where beautiful faces, frontal views of exposed pelvises, brawny arms and arching torsos celebrate the pleasures of the flesh.
These highly significant motifs of Cabrera’s work can today be enjoyed by those who admire and study his oeuvre, and find an adequate space within Cuba’s cultural milieu, thanks to the contributions of private collectors, the embassy of Norway in Havana and Cuba’s National Council for Cultural Heritage.
According to Prensa Latina, the erotic pieces shown at this exhibition were drawn by Cabrera during the last years of his life.
Today, we have relatively little information about a whole array of Cabrera’s works, such as the sets he designed for a number of theatre pieces. The artist’s exploration of homoerotic themes, possibly one of the most intimate and profound aspects of his oeuvre, was pretty much consigned to oblivion as a result of the homophobia that has prevailed in Cuba, whose institutions closed its doors on the painter.
In the 1970s, Cabrera was to draw and paint a whole series of the male bodies that aroused him.
According to Luz Merino Acosta, Cabrera’s well-known “Habaneras” series was interpreted as a “mimickry of male forms” when first exhibited. Today, critics agree that the paintings show “masculinicized females.”
In the opinion of the critic, with this series of paintings, the artist managed to capture the instant in which Cuban women enter the workplace and come into direct contact with machismo for the first time, relocating themselves within the social environment to attain gender consciousness and look at the world with less naivety.
The curator of the exhibition, Rosemary Rodriguez, related that in 1971, “severe censorship kept Cabrera from exhibiting his paintings at Cuba’s National Fine Arts Museum.” Miguel Barnet, chairman of the National Association of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC), told gallery visitors that, though many Cuban art galleries refused to exhibit his pieces, Cabrera “continued to develop those motifs he felt were crucial to his work.”
Though, during a relatively long period, Cabrera deployed a number of motifs common to the works of many Cuban artists (the thatched hat, palm trees, sugar canes, the rifles held high in the air, the firmly-wielded machetes), his pieces always remained genuine and immune to the pressures of fashion or ideology.
Suffice it to note that Breton once referred to him as “the most beautiful feather on the hat of surrealism”, one of the movements or tendencies the Cuban artist explored.
“Human beings – eroticized, heroic, virile, instinctive, beautiful – remain at the center of his works in each and every one of his stages as an artist,” curator Rosemary Rodriguez tells us. We could add to this that the artist also portrayed a transparent, womanish and vulnerable human being.
“These pieces still shock us because many prejudices still cling to our perception of the erotic, of pleasure and of the body,” a university student told IPS in reference to the exhibition, which shall remain open until July 21.
Acknowledged at 90
This year marks the 90th anniversary of Servando Cabrera’s birth, and a broad, year-round program of activities has been organized to celebrate this important date.
The program began in May at the Servando Cabrera Moreno Museum and Library, where Cabrera’s friends and experts on his work shared words of praise for the artist and a series of reproductions of twelve of his pieces, published by the Cuban Cultural Heritage Fund, were sold.
As part of the festivities organized for International Museum Day, the Servando Cabrera Moreno Museum and Library also held a get-together to present an unfinished book, titled “Servando Cabrera Moreno: a Passion for the Human” (“Servando Cabrera Moreno: Pasion por lo humano”), to contain over two hundred photographs of the artist’s work and to be published by the Guatemalan publishing house “Ediciones Polimita” in less than a year’s time.
Villa Lita, the large colonial mansion which houses the museum, holding Cabrera’s personal documents and works having to do with the artist (as well as a wide collection of his paintings and drawings), is currently being restored.
In conjunction with the museum, the Rene Portocarrero Serigraphy Workshop will hold a summer workshop for children on the first two weeks of July, where participants will learn silk-screening techniques.
The exhibition “The Wellspring of Life: Oil Paintings by Cabrera Moreno” (“La fuente de la vida, oleos de Cabrera Moreno”), held at Cuba’s National Library, will close on December 5, during the week of Havana’s 35th International Festival of New Latin American Cine, to open with an address written by the late Alfredo Guevara.
This year, the film festival will be dedicated to Cabrera, whose piece “Moncada”, a mural painting from the artist’s “epic” period, will be used as the poster for the festival.
Recently, Cuba’s National Council for Cultural Heritage declared the artist’s works and belongings part of the country’s official cultural heritage.
The belongings referred to in the declaration made by this Ministry of Culture institution include the artist’s awards, tokens of acknowledgement, documents, photographs, books and personal objects.
This beautiful and thrilling exhibition of Cabrera’s unpublished drawings was a fitting tribute to International Day of Gay Pride, celebrated today, June 28, in Havana.