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At Pompano Beach Cultural Center, 20 artists turn Cuba inside out

The first artwork viewers will encounter in “Shipwrecked of Reason,” the debut exhibit at the new Pompano Beach Cultural Center, is Nadal Antelmo’s vertical aerial photograph “Furrow.” Mounted on a column just outside the center’s upstairs gallery, the image depicts seven men and women of different colors and creeds wedged inside a trench shaped like a seedpod. Their arms are crossed, and, from this top-down angle, their faces are obscured.

For Antelmo, who immigrated to Miami from Cuba two years ago, these Cubans represent seeds of change in the island country, and the evolving nature of emigration in a post-Fidel Castro world.

“In this work, I try to say that Cubans need to grow up in a new place,” Antelmo, 49, says through a translator, adding that the number of people in the photograph has biblical significance. “These are the seeds of hope that will sprout in the future.”

The exhibit, on loan from the Cuban government and curated by Isabel María Pérez Pérez, opened in a 750-square-foot gallery last week and will close July 31. The show, subtitled “Half a Century in Cuban Art,” rounds up 30 works from 20 Cuban artists, all responding to how Cuba’s dictatorship, geography and poor socioeconomic conditions created a new generation of artists. Pérez says the show is divided into four themes: Remembrance, Myth and Identity; Body and Portrait; Territory and Landscape; and Construction of History.

“It could have easily been 200 artists instead of 20,” Pérez, a publisher of the journal ArteCubano, says through a translator. “If you look at Cuban artists, they are always influencing the rest of the world. For these contemporary Cuban artists, they’re not trying to look internationally, but the messages are still universal.”

Pérez says that Ibrahim Miranda’s installation “Mapas” is obsessed with Cuba’s place in history. On nine rectangular paper panels, Miranda paints a medley of classical sculptures, sugarcane fields and 19th century European aristocrats. Aimée Garcia’s work “Connection” depicts two black-and-white self-portraits against a collage of newsprint, a reference to women’s roles in history as life givers, nurturers and oppressed minority. Meanwhile, Michel Mirabal's metal sculpture "Complaints and Suggestions" features a mailbox with cartoonishly sharp teeth, a commentary on Cuba’s history of censorship.

Like Antelmo, photographer René Peña is concerned with racial issues in Cuba and beyond. In his digital prints “Martini” and “Untitle,” well-dressed black men stand next to superimposed images of status symbols: teapots, car keys and martini glasses. In Pedro Pablo Oliva’s bronze sculpture “The Great Carriage,” four Cubans ride an Elegua, a deity of the Santeria religion and a symbol of safe passage. And Abel Barroso’s “Home Travel Charger” is a woodcut of electrical plug adapters, which Pérez says describes a must-have gadget for Cuban emigres and the common issue of “fitting in” with a new country.

“This gallery needed to set the bar high,” Byron Swart, the Pompano Beach Cultural Center’s curator, says of the exhibit. “Some of these powerful works address politics and skin color and the loss of identity, which is something that any transplant or immigrant can identify with.”

“Shipwrecked of Reason: Half a Century in Cuban Art” is on view through July 31 at Pompano Beach Cultural Center, 50 SW First Ave. Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday. Admission is free. Call 954-839-9578 or go to CCPompano.org.

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