Artists from Los Angeles collaborate with Cubans for exhibit that will come to Miami

CalArts and San Alejandro students partner for transnational exhibitions

HAVANA – Women's rituals of Vodou and Santeria intrigue Shaina Lynn Simmons. She said black women in New Orleans and Havana have plenty in common. 

The CalArts Center for New Performance graduate student from New Orleans said she finds the strong cultural resistance during the African diaspora fascinating.

The actress is working on "Afro Futuro," a collaboration with Cubans that she described as "a photo, video and live performance installation that explores the mythologies and realities of black women and Afro-Cuban women." 

"Afro Futuro" is one of several works by CalArts students from Los Angeles who are working with Cuban artists from La Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro, the most prestigious fine arts school in Cuba. They call the exhibition of their works "El Acercamiento/Approach."

Simmons joined the journey and cultural exchange after taking Evelyn Serrano's  Art & Activism class. Serrano, who has been teaching for about a decade, is also getting closer to her roots with the "El Acercamiento/Approach" project.

Serrano, a Maryland Institute College of Art and CalArts graduate, was born and raised in Cuba. About two years ago, she met Yamile Pardo, the dean of school of sculpture at Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro in Cuba, during Havana's Biennial Art Exhibition. 

The two sent their students to work on street performances in Havana. Leydiana Lisbett Valdes Lopez is a Cuban dancer, who has connected with Simmons' African pride. The San Alejandro student said, "we have been growing and broadening" our horizons. 

Visual arts have helped to diminish the language barrier. Simmons said their work has helped them "to figure out our past together." 

The three-part exhibition series will be on display this weekend in Havana. The artists will travel to Los Angeles for their second exhibit. And they will partner with students from the New World School of the Arts during Art Basel Miami Beach 2017 for their third exhibit at the Centro Cultural Español in downtown Miami. 

About the Author:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.