OPEN THE DOORS WIDE

Art On Cuba - - Index - Nel­son Her­rera Ysla

At the end of 2016, the book El car­tel cubano llama dos ve­ces, by Cuban re­searcher and cu­ra­tor Sara Vega Miche,1 pub­lished by Edi­ciones La Palma of Spain, as part of its Cuba Col­lec­tion, di­rected by Ig­na­cio Ro­dríguez, was first launched in Ha­vana be­fore its sale to the pub­lic.

In large for­mat (22 x 31 cen­time­ters) and with 144 posters re­pro­duced full-page, plus 56 re­duced and ac­com­pa­ny­ing the texts, for a to­tal of 200, the reader will ap­pre­ci­ate a mod­est part of one of the most tran­scen­den­tal ex­pres­sions of Cuban con­tem­po­rary vi­su­al­ity which rep­re­sented, ac­cord­ing to Cuban and for­eign writ­ers and crit­ics, the vis­i­ble face of Cuban art dur­ing the 1960s and 70s.

On this oc­ca­sion, fol­low­ing other ti­tles pub­lished in Cuba and abroad (on which Sara Vega has also con­trib­uted), posters are of­fered not only by the renowned artists of the so-called “golden age” of the six­ties (An­to­nio Fernán­dez Re­boiro, René Azcuy, Al­fredo Rostgaard, An­to­nio Pérez Ñiko, Ed­uardo Muñoz Bachs, Julio Eloy, Rafael Mo­rante), but also those of re­cent gen­er­a­tions of Cuban de­sign­ers, as a liv­ing demon­stra­tion of their con­ti­nu­ity and vi­tal­ity, as a way of con­firm­ing the re­mark­able re­vival and in­ter­est that Cuban posters con­tinue to awaken in di­verse lat­i­tudes (re­mem­ber the en­thu­si­asm of Amer­i­can es­say­ist and writer Su­san Son­tag on pub­lish­ing her out­stand­ing book on

Cuban posters in 1970).

It is im­por­tant to note that the book deals only with posters made for Cuban films and not with the rich and ex­ten­sive pro­duc­tion car­ried out in the De­sign De­part­ment of the Cuban In­sti­tute of Cine­mato­graphic Art and In­dus­try (ICAIC) in re­la­tion to movies from Europe, the United States, Asia, Africa, and

Latin Amer­ica screened in Cuba. If the au­thor and pub­lisher had pro­posed such a gi­gan­tic task, it would un­doubt­edly have sur­passed the 245 pages of the text that we are deal­ing with now.

An in­tro­duc­tion by Lu­ciano Castillo, Di­rec­tor of the Cine­math­eque of Cuba, with the sug­ges­tive ti­tle of “Los paraguas de La Habana” (The Um­brel­las of Ha­vana - in ref­er­ence to the ur­ban metal struc­tures, lo­cated in cen­tral cor­ners of the Cuban cap­i­tal, used to ex­hibit eight dif­fer­ent film posters on each side ev­ery week, and which pedes­tri­ans im­me­di­ately iden­ti­fied as paragüi­tas or lit­tle um­brel­las), in a sub­tle al­lu­sion to Jacques Demy’s fa­mous 1960s film The Um­brel­las of Cher­bourg, con­firms the im­pact that this in­clu­sion or daily in­ter­ven­tion of sym­bols meant for the ur­ban land­scape and graphic codes; caus­ing Cuban writer Alejo Car­pen­tier to ex­claim in 1969 that these were noth­ing less than an “art gallery ac­ces­si­ble to all, of­fered to all those who have eyes to per­ceive the jokes, the styles, the dis­cov­er­ies, of a visual arts po­si­tioned be­yond mere ad­ver­tis­ing fig­u­ra­tion.”

This in­tro­duc­tory text is followed by a sort of gen­eral es­say by Sara Vega (un­der the same ti­tle as the book) that cov­ers al­most 100 years of poster pro­duc­tion since her re­search dates back to 1915, thanks to the con­ser­va­tion in the archives of the in­sti­tu­tion where she works of a sig­nif­i­cant copy of the poster La Manigua o La mu­jer cubana, by an un­known artist, cor­re­spond­ing to the film of the same name re­leased that year.

Di­vided ac­cord­ing to decade, from the 1960s to the first decade of the 21st cen­tury, the text re­views the changes in the codes and rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the Cuban film poster, as well as its sources of in­flu­ence world­wide (es­pe­cially Pol­ish posters) and, very con­sci­en­tiously, of the vi­cis­si­tudes and “mir­a­cles” car­ried out by those de­sign­ers and screen prin­ters, al­most heroic when put into per­spec­tive, to over­come the short­age of ap­pro­pri­ate ma­te­ri­als and nec­es­sary equip­ment un­til pre­sent­ing their sketches and print­ing them in the ICAIC screen print­ing work­shop; in­clud­ing those of the new gen­er­a­tions of de­sign­ers in re­cent years (Nel­son Ponce, Raúl Valdés, Giselle Monzón, Michelle Mi­jares Hol­lands, Edel Ro­driguez, Clau­dio So­to­longo, Ida­nia del Río).

For this rea­son, the tech­nique with which they were made is high­lighted—screen print­ing—ca­pa­ble of en­dow­ing each poster with a par­tic­u­lar, and I would say spe­cial and at times myth­i­cal, aura, thanks to the rich­ness of its tex­ture, the opac­ity and in­ten­sity of the colors and, at the same time, dif­fer­ent de­grees of im­per­fec­tion due to the rus­tic pa­per used.

The al­most pho­to­graphic posters of the 1940s and 50s are not ex­cluded from this re­search, in which the drawn or painted ac­tors’ faces were the es­sen­tial ad­ver­tis­ing com­po­nent to at­tract au­di­ences to cin­e­mas, and not the search for new forms or truly cre­ative in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the film con­tent.

The as­sim­i­la­tion by Cuban de­sign­ers of im­por­tant con­tem­po­rary art trends from the 1960s trans­formed the visual panorama of the Cuban poster, turn­ing it into a cul­tural event par ex­cel­lence by com­bin­ing beauty, com­mu­nica­tive ef­fec­tive­ness and visual im­pact. Thanks to this, these posters to­day en­joy the es­teem of im­por­tant gal­leries and museums in dif­fer­ent parts of the world, and are cov­eted by col­lec­tors and re­searchers.

The eval­u­a­tion of this area of na­tional graphic his­tory car­ried out by Sara Vega po­si­tions the Cuban film poster in a just place within the his­tory of Cuban cul­ture, along with paint­ing, draw­ing, sculp­ture, en­grav­ing, the pho­to­graph, the in­stal­la­tion, the ob­ject. It shat­ters any prej­u­dice, and de­mol­ishes bar­ri­ers as re­gards mi­nor and ma­jor arts, fine arts and crafts, high and low cul­ture. And it con­trib­utes to a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the lo­cal and global phe­nom­ena of vi­su­al­ity. The im­por­tance of this art form has led it to be re­cently rec­og­nized as Na­tional Mem­ory in Cuba, a first step to reach, per­haps in all like­li­hood and with am­ple jus­tice, the Mem­ory of the World cat­e­gory granted by UNESCO to these max­i­mum achieve­ments in the field of hu­man cre­ation.

There­fore, when the Cuban film poster knocks at your door, open it wide. ƒ

… from the 1960s to the first decade of the 21st cen­tury, the text re­views the changes in the codes and rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the Cuban film poster, as well as its sources of in­flu­ence world­wide…

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