A retired university professor has curated his love of Cuba and its art and artists in the new Gallery 625 show, Retro Cuba, which offers views of life and its meaning in the island nation. The show opens on August 5 at YoloArts’ Gallery 625 with a 5:30 pm reception.
The artists featured in the show are Francisco J. Rivero and Roberto Salas who reside in Cuba and Jose R. Ramirez and Jorge A. Santana, California artists.
Santana is the show’s curator and is retired from CSU Sacramento where he taught Hispanic language and culture for forty years. He says he retired to begin his “creative phase” and has been pursuing a lifelong passion for photography; he has also made a number of short videos that focus on the cultural exchanges travelers experience during their visits. Having led over fifty travel-study groups abroad, Santana always travels with a camera in hand. His photographs in this show were taken during CSU Sacramento travel-study trips to Cuba in 2012, and a recent trip in April 2022.
“This is not a fine art photography approach but more of a social documentary view of present-day Cuba and Cubans in their struggle to survive in a country faced with many limitations and restrictions,” Santana stated. “Perhaps the series of photographs can be considered an ethnographic exhibit of life on the verge of dramatic change.”
Santana became acquainted with artists Rivero and Salas on his trips to Cuba.
Over the past 50 years, Roberto Salas has worked with many photographic forms including photo journalism, commercial, documentary, and war correspondence. Salas fell in love with his father’s silver and gelatin world of photography at an early age. Leaving school at 15, Salas installed himself in a future of photography against the objections of his father “who wanted a better life than that of a ‘picture-taker without glory’” for his son. Roberto is the son of Osvaldo Salas who was famous for his portraits of Hemingway and Fidel Castro in Cuba circa 1960.
The twelve Roberto Salas images exhibited in Retro Cuba are a tribute to animal husbandry and farming in a country where food is scarce, in large part due to the Blockade. They are part of a larger series “Such Are the Cubans” forming a quest towards a visual study of the Cuban identity.
Francisco J. Rivero was born in 1955 in Cardenas, Cuba and it was there that show curator Santana first met the painter after seeing his work in an art gallery. Rivero’s initial works were murals utilized by the revolution to help beautify public buildings such as hospitals and schools as well as murals that exalted some of the social and educational achievements of the revolution. With the easing up of restrictions, Cuban artists were enabled to venture into their own creation and selling of artworks.
A number of themes reverberate in Rivero’s art, and one of the more controversial themes is the injustice of life. His work reflects this through the use of satire, metaphors and tropes to lessen the bluntness of his pessimistic view. His work has turned inward towards the tropical lushness of Cuba in trying to establish a narrow link between nature and human being, and the influence of birds in the mysterious world of magic is essential as are the African contributions to his homeland. Some of Rivero’s works hint at abstract and a neo-cubist tendency, without abandoning design and color techniques.
Photographer Jose R. Ramirez resides in the Bay Area and Jalisco, Mexico. He started photography at the age of 16 when he traded landscape work for a camera. He says his photography has gone through many stages – having tried travel, wedding, landscape and manipulation or composite photography, he has now “found my true passion in street photography.”
Ramirez says he has had a love affair with Cuba and its music since he was a young person. He traveled to Cuba many times since the late 1980s and enjoys the culture, people, music and history, and has many friends and family members there. The urban photos in the show capture moments in Cuba.
The show’s curator, Jorge A. Santana, will attend the opening reception, 5:30-8 p.m. Friday August 5, coinciding with the downtown Woodland First Friday event. At 6:30 pm Santana will host a talk about his friendship with Rivero and Ramirez, and his academic and artistic ties to these artists. Rick Swig, a friend of photographer Salas, will talk about his friendship with Roberto Salas and the significance of his photography. Copies of Imágenes de la Memoria Fotografias de Roberto Salas (Images from Memory: Photographs by Roberto Salas) will be available for sale.
Guitarist Emanuel Pailes will play soft, tropical, and Latino music and light refreshments will be available. Face coverings are encouraged in the gallery and the most recent recommendations from the Yolo County Health Officer will be followed.
The artwork can also be viewed (and purchased) online at yoloarts.org/online-galleries.
Retro Cuba continues at Gallery 625 through October 4.
Gallery 625 hosts exhibitions and receptions every other month. New exhibitions typically open on the first Fridays of February, April, June, August, October, and December.
Gallery 625 is located at 625 Court Street in Woodland, in Yolo County’s Erwin Meier Administration building and is open Monday – Friday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information, contact YoloArts at 530-309-6464.