When the Cuban poster comes to my mind, a set of socio-political circumstances brings up continuous historiographical approaches, specifically the Cuban post-revolutionary graphics as a propagandistic support, and its strict documentary value and ideological training. This very first moment, in terms of specific historical urgency and revaluation of its environment, coexisted in parallel to the approach to Cuban graphics; and specifically to the poster, from a cultural vortex in crescendo on the Island.
In such a way, the communicative immediacy and the thematic efficiency as impassive guidelines of graphics begin to take other nuances in the poster development on the Island. The aesthetic factor gained strength along the formal conception of such supports; and followed by great figures of this media, such as Eladio Rivadulla, René Azcuy, Eduardo Muñoz Bachs, Rotsgaard, Félix Beltrán, Héctor Villaverde, José Gómez Fresquet, among others, the Cuban poster acquired the category of aesthetic object as an extension of plastic arts at that time. This expansion of graphics since the very beginning of the Cuban Revolution, and coupled with the establishment of impetuous cultural institutions (ICAIC –Cuban Institute for Arts and Cinema Industry, in 1961) became one of the most interesting developments in the aesthetic-cultural debates in the Cuban arts history.
Since then, the convergence of plastic arts with graphical design has become a visual product containing outstanding valuable signifiers. By just referring to the varied collaborations with this sector on the part of great national plastic artists, such as Raúl Martínez, Servando Cabrera Moreno, Umberto Peña, and so forth, it is consistent to assure there is an influence of plastic arts upon design. Though conditioned on a general basis by survival strategies in the face of the instability of a national art market, it brought along a matured stage regarding the development of the Cuban poster.
The Cuban Posters, from the Island to the World exhibition, organized by the CartelON project at the Spanish Embassy on occasion of the CUBA ARTS Festival at the Kennedy Center, is one of the most successful expressions, regarding the exchange promoted for decades between design and plastic arts in Cuba.
The exhibition, while embracing the usual icons of Cuban poster, combines the new promotion of graphic designers who are just showing off their skills or are beginning to render new lights over this media. The exhibition is on display and a series of recurring questions arise over this subject. Are we still talking about a graphic design poster? Is the communicative factor a guiding principle? On the other hand, has it intentionally shifted to the aesthetic? Is the graphic designer a visual artist of a new kind, even without pretensions of transcending this practice?
Although at the beginning plastic arts accompanied graphic design in the new cultural adventures experienced by the nation, there is no doubt that this exhibition shows an opposite process: The current graphic design in Cuba is redirected and integrated into the dynamics of contemporary visual arts with a projection certainly heterogeneous but not duly dispersed.
The historiography of Cuban art has defined it, precisely throughout the graphic development of the early Twentieth century, as the antechamber of the Cuban plastic avant-garde. Rafael Blanco, Massaguer, Valls, among others, show this on major magazines. It is evident in a similar way when analyzing the new Cuban poster as a whole. It seems that this avant-garde condition of initiation never disappeared, and that now graphic arts are nothing more than a sector that rejuvenates itself to get from fresh visuality standpoint every outdated pictorialism in the field of painting and other practices.
An exhibition like this one, subject to risky conceptual interpretations and constrained visualities –understood as “Cubanness in its cultural conception– provided very accurate approaches on the part of the participants. In this sense, it is important to highlight the curatorship was able to establish an effective balance in terms of what should be understood as representative of what is Cuban minded and what should be in the eyes of others in terms of contemporary national graphics.
The plurality of views around such a deeply abstract and chimerical phenomenon was fundamentally due to a generational dialogue which brings out multiple approaches, and all doubtlessly valid. Defining concepts seems to be a sine qua non task of design and specifically graphics. However, when any creator is to portray Cuba and its culture in a given artistic expression, it turns out into a full process of skirmishes. One might say that a dignified thematic maturity is evident in Cuban Posters.
Attaining such a degree of reference, even when one evades specific symbols alluding to the Island and those well-worn in other similar processes of suggestion, it reveals a representational synthesis with a high mastery of a metonymic language inherent in design, the good design. In this sense, capricious formal solutions stand out subverting an endless number of contextual specificities inherent to national current affairs.
The presence of a changing reality and an elusive chameleonic metamorphosis (Raupa); and the channeling of supposedly solid concepts within the country’s historical memory (Liz Capote); as well as the clash with concepts of elite cultural definitions, like that of the Cuban culture understood as “ajiaco” (a Cuban dish with lots of various ingredients), and its redefinition out of a popular slang “lo que está en candela” (referring to a thorny issue) (Monk), make up a well-known socio-cultural mark.
Likewise, the exhibition highlights new aesthetic tendencies in the Cuban poster trying to hybridize more and more with emerging visualities. Two fundamental trends are evident in Cuban Posters.
The first of them is closer to a common design, that is to say, where basic forms predominate in the composition, the use of spot colors, high chromatic contrasts, and clear space structures (Raupa, Nelson Ponce, Norberto Molina, and Alejandro Rodríguez).
The second is present where the poster becomes empowered, and acquires an autonomy allowing the seizure of other urban and less common trends. In this sense, graffiti as well as a visual imaginary that already begins dominating digital spaces, comes to life and offers riskier views; all this giving rise to a new nomenclature in which design is only a pretext and the poster becomes a democratic space for experimentation (Mola, Idania del Río, Monk, Liz Capote).
Cuban Posters, from the Island to the World points to a new space in contemporary Cuban visual arts, which we are accustomed to ignore, because it belongs to a discipline that is fully aware of its role: sketching and communicating an idea. However, when artistic-cultural phenomena take place, such as this exhibition is showing us today, it reminds us that in the midst of an aesthetic cannibalism such as seen vividly nowadays in contemporary art, the poster enjoys a vigorous health and vitality.
–Modesto D. Serpa