HAVANA U.S. artists are preparing for the first big group exhibition of American art in Cuba since the 1980s in what they hope is a harbinger of better relations between the two countries.
The work of more than 30 artists representing New York City's Chelsea district will be displayed March 28 through May 17 at Havana's Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in an exhibit called "Chelsea Visits Havana."
U.S. curator Alberto Magnan said on Tuesday the exposition's purpose was to give Cubans a chance to see American art, little of which has made its way to the Communist-run island during the past 50 years of hostilities between the United States and Cuba.
"Art has always been a bridge to culture, and if this is any sign of things to come, it's a great first step," said Magnan, a Cuban-American and Chelsea art gallery owner.
The pieces range from a painting of what could be Cuban refugees boating into Miami to an elaborate work that includes television sets and a transmitter that will beam out a video of an apocalyptic city of the future.
Some of it, such as a red cutout with the profiles of U.S. President Barack Obama and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, makes overt reference to U.S.-Cuba relations.
Magnan and wife Dara Metz are curating the exhibit along with the Havana museum's Abelardo Maena, who said the last group exhibit of U.S. artists in Cuba took place in 1986.
One of the visiting artists, Jade Townsend, said that just as Cubans would get to see American art, he and his colleagues had gotten to view Cuban art in the context of Cuba's culture and socialist political system.
"There's a certain freedom we don't have and there's a certain freedom they don't have," he said.
Cuban artists do not have the same "commercial drive behind their work, which facilitates a different way of working, and that's sort of incredible," he said.
Cuba and the United States were close allies until a 1959 revolution put Fidel Castro in power and led to the 1962 imposition of a U.S. trade embargo aimed at toppling Cuba's Communist-run government.
U.S.-Cuba hostilities increased during the Bush administration, which toughened the embargo, but Obama has taken office with the promise of improving relations between the countries separated only by the Straits of Florida.
Planning for the exhibit began while President George W. Bush was in office, but Obama's promise of change had given added significance to the event, said artist Doug Young.
"I think it's the first stitch in a fabric that will grow to be a big banner of freedom for everybody," he said.
(Editing by Jim Loney)