How fortuitous that the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG) was able to unmask a collection of Afro-Cuban art at an exhibition coinciding with South Africa’s hosting of the soccer World Cup – and the spotlight falling on Africa.
Curator, Orlando Hermandez, has dished up a veritable feast of artworks representing a cross-section of Afro-Cuban artists from the internationally renowned to street artists. The exhibition features 26 artists showing a total of 79 works. Without Masks opens a window into the lives and struggles of Cubans of African descent, largely the descendants of slaves.
Maria Magdalena Campos, a descendant of Nigerian Slaves, creates a sense of great longing in Dreaming of an Island. Yet her dreams cannot escape the threads of hair that define her race or the nets of centuries of enslavement, or the consequences modern day human trafficking.
Another interesting aspect of the exhibition shows artists reflecting on the Angolan war of the 1970s and 80s in which South African forces fought Cuban soldiers.
Underlying almost all of the works on show is artists’ striving to come to grips with race, identity, religion, superstition and sacrifice in a multi-cultural society rooted in slavery, colonialism, revolution, socialism and war.
Markers of race such as skin, hair and the shape of a nose are to a large degree interrogated in terms of identity and the stereotyping of individuals. An overriding message is that human beings are fundamentally the same, irrespective of origins, colour and class.
The exhibition features artworks collected by former South African businessman, Chris von Christierson, now resident in London who was introduced to Afro-Cuban art by Orlando Hermandez, in 2007.