Nelson Laguna was a great Afro Cuban artist, who recently passed on, at the age of 95. This is an oil on canvas, and is about 23" x 31".
Cuba is a goldmine of talent. From the Russian influences, to the classical European artists, that many of the Cuban Masters studied with.
Despite a series of repressive governments the art scene has historically thrived in Cuba, where culture occupies a prominent place. Art played a key role in the Cuban revolution and there are currently about 14 art schools, a University of Fine Arts, as well as 13,000 ‘registered artists’ on the island, as Rene Duquesne of the National Council of Visual Arts points out.
The African presence in Cuba is undeniable, incredibly strong and visible but because of the practice of whitening in the US, it is possible to shed, deny, or simply omit one's blackness in order to melt into the dominant, acceptable identity group in Miami. Here it is both possible and common to refer to being Cuban, refer to one's self as “white” while showing pictures of generations of family that include a Black abuelo or abuelita. So when we talk of Afro-Cuban art, we have several distinctions – art that pays homage to African heritage and culture, art by Black Cubans, art that makes reference to Afro-Cuban culture, and none of these are mutually exclusive. As a “movement,” Afro-Cuban Art involves bringing what is Black about Cuba to the forefront and an important linking with Black diaspora arts as a much larger field or landscape. It is one in which Black/ Afro-Cuban lives matter.
Afro-Cuban art has given the world, and the African diaspora in particular, a symbolic language with which to speak to and about African spiritual systems, specifically with regard to the orishas. The iconography of spiritual African systems from many nations – Yoruba, Fon, Dahomey, Congo, Ketu, Ijesha, Egbado, Oyo, Nago, Jeje are all a part of what has become Afro-Cuban art. Here there are so many points of reference that people from throughout the African Diaspora will feel and see a “familiar” energy in a variety of artistic mediums in Cuba and the Cuban diaspora.
By using this symbolic language, embedding it in painting, music, sculpture, textiles, and other mediums the narrative histories of West and Southern Africa (specifically Yoruba and Congo) that didn’t exist visually as art for art sake in Africa have significantly contributed to the globalization of Lucumi/orisa culture and positive associations with Cuban culture worldwide. The Lucumi tradition also understood as Afro-Cuban religion, has given us a new world lens on ancient African traditional spiritual systems by creating visible representations that offer a new and necessary lingua franca that we recognize as part of Cuba, bringing together African aesthetics from many different nations.
As such Afro-Cuban religion has travelled extensively and influenced the world. It is possible now to see certain images and identify them as representations of Oshun, Oggun, Exu, Obatala, Shango, Oya, Ochossi and their tools as both overt and imbedded in artistic forms. This is a major specific contribution Afro-Cuban art has made to the world – it has in this way made visible narratives which only existed orally and in the minds and hearts of practitioners for many generations. Now, because of Afro-Cuban art, students reading African American novelist Ntozake Shange or viewing international pop sensation Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” can quickly pick up on the Osun imagery because we have a context for a yellow wearing, mirror having, beautiful, brown skinned woman in touch with her own sensuality.