A father, mother and child, desperate to seek a new life, float helplessly across the shark-infested waters between Cuba and Florida in a raft made of tyres, with no sail or oars. Hanging down are Polaroid photographs of real-life experiences attached to the painting.
A small naked man stands trying to pull a huge floating cloud of cotton balls with a few spots of bright colour, surrounded by a tall chain-linked fence. Nothing is moving – not the man who represents the artist Luis Cruz Azaceta, nor the island – they both appear to be trapped, unable to separate, having a strong bond that prevents separation, but is unable to join them together.
Another naked man, this time bound and blindfold, emaciated and starved of food, lies on a bed of tall sharp nails, bruised and blooded from torture with his mouth open in an agonising scream that reverberates over and over again, hoping that someone somewhere will hear it.
Cuddly toys – teddy bears that children love and take to bed are unwittingly messengers of death. Underneath their warm furry outside, explosives await, ready to blow up and destroy the innocent when they least expect it – a commentary on terrorism events coming from inside, as in Oklahoma or, more recently, in Paris.
The cotton balls surrounded by the fence represents the recognisable shape of Cuba: “Exiled 50” refers to the 50 years of the Castro regime in 2009, while the man in torture represents the countries of South America, their people starved, bruised and bleeding and screaming out in agony, waiting for the world to respond.
Luis Cruz Azaceta’s work is the inaugural exhibition of Miami’s newest museum, opened in a relatively modest building with a classical façade that reflects museum architecture in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora (those who left everything behind in search of a better life elsewhere) aims to explore the history, culture and contribution the Cuban Diaspora has given to culture and society, particularly in the Americas. While the Museum is based in Miami it seeks to serve a wider community using art and other forms of expression as its theme.
The American-Cuban artist Luis Cruz Azacera left Cuba in 1960, when he was 18 years old, later travelling to Europe where the work of Spanish artists such as Goya had a great impact on him. It features a time line comparing his own life with events in Cuba, setting the context for the paintings and sculptures on display.
His work reflects not only on the difficulties of those who left Cuba, often in rafts and small boats, risking their lives in shark-infested seas and the difficulties of those who remained, but also examines other situations of terror, such as in Cambodia and in the USA with the Oklahoma bombing and 9/11.
“My being an exile from Castro’s Cuba gave me sympathy with other exiles that I have encountered from Latin Americ, especially the ones fleeing military regimes in Central and Southern America” (Luis Cruz Azaceta)
The Museum had a difficult start and has taken a decade to come to fruition. A $10 million grant from the Miami-Dade General Obligation Fund in 2004 enabled the museum to buy and begin renovation of the former rehearsal home of the Florida Grand Opera’s Arturo di Filippi Center on Coral Way. Unfortunately, with the recession in 2011, funds were temporarily suspended, work was halted and the building was left to deteriorate.
Happily, funding again became available at the end of 2013 and redevelopment has now been completed. The two-story museum has four exhibition galleries, a 110-seat lecture theatre and a quiet garden of reflection. The white walls, marble floors and elegant staircase are reminiscent of old Florida homes and provide good flexible spaces for a future programme of art exhibitions and other activities.