DUNEDIN — It's the land of cigars and mojitos. Vintage cars and crumbling architecture. Hemingway and Castro.
Cuba is a place where food can be scarce but music, dance and the arts are plentiful.
In 2015, the Dunedin Fine Arts Center's auxiliary group, the Sterling Society, assembled a trip as part of the People to People Cultural Exchange program with the idea of procuring an exhibit down the road.
Today, the Dunedin Fine Art Center unveils the fruits of that artful journey in an exhibit called Oye Como Va. This exhibit, on display through March, showcases the works of contemporary Cuban artists.
"Oye Como Va is a culmination of our Cuban art experience and the Sterling Society's vision to share it with our community," said Catherine Bergmann, the art center's curator who went on the trip.
It has been a bumpy road with a variety of logistical problems that delayed the arrival and hanging of the Cuban artwork.
"This is the longest planning (for an exhibit) we've ever done with the shortest execution time," said Ken Hannon, vice president of the art center.
Bergmann added: "Everything is coming together on Cuba time as we have come to know it. The anticipation is great but the rewards for the viewing public will be supreme."
In November 2015, 30 delegates from the Dunedin Fine Art Center boarded a chartered airplane for a 55-minute flight from Tampa to Havana.
They saw first-hand organic cooperatives where ox ploughs still till the ground and where tall grass is cut with machetes. They rode in vintage pink and turquoise Buicks and Chevys. They dined on chicken and lobster and danced the samba in the city streets.
But the focus of this trip was on the lively Cuban arts. They toured artists' studios and the famed National School of the Arts or the Instituto Superior de Arte campus with its historic Catalan-vaulted architecture.
The resulting exhibit Oye Como Va includes paintings, printmaking, sculpture and video by Cuban creatives.
Companion exhibits include Cuba: New Eyes, select photographs from Cuba by local photographers Veronica Stewart, Kirk ke Wang, Leslie Joy Ickowitz and Richard Entel, and, We Are Family, a juried exhibit on the theme of personal and global interconnectedness. Private Collections showcase works collected by the Dunedin delegates during the November 2015 trip.
Ickowitz, a photographer and founder of Vertical Tampa Bay magazine, was part of a cultural exchange group that visited Cuba in May 2015. She is incorporating 15 images within the show detailing her love affair with Cuba — its streets, its people, its architecture and way of life.
What she found most fascinating, she said, "was the energy of people being outdoors all the time."
"The Cubans live in such close quarters they like to hang out on the streets," she said. "We saw old women gossiping in doorways, old men sitting on stoops playing marbles, teenage girls chatting it up, boys playing with balls."
She was impressed by how inventive and resilient the Cuban people were, using scarce resources to get by as best as they could.
"I visited the home of a Cuban fashion designer who worked on the rooftop of her home under the blazing sun," Ickowitz said. "She used string, rice, leaves and flower petals to make her designs. She squirted paints using old juice bottles with holes on the tops."
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