At the NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, Pablo Cano's mural "La Santa Sebastiana" is a vision of Cuba as a wounded patron saint, bound with rope and penetrated by many arrows. A white chariot horse, representing America, bursts through the center of the mural. Saint Sebastian reappears on the far-right, seated in a Michelangelo-like pose, and waiting with an arrow in its grasp.
"It's the symbol of the Cuban exile waiting for Castro to die and for something to happen," Cano says of his 1983 mural, which debuted 30 years ago at Miami's now-defunct Cuban Museum of Arts and Culture.
Cano, who fled Cuba as a teenager in the 1960s, was one of nine Cuban exiles in that 1983 group art show, "The Miami Generation." Three decades on, Museum of Art curator Jorge Santis convinced the artists (six are still alive) to reunite their works for "The Miami Generation: Revisited," opening Saturday at the Museum of Art.
Santis, retiring this week after 35 years at the museum, considers this his final curated exhibit, a sweeping probe into the lives, new identities and sociopolitical works of Cano, Mario Bencomo, Maria Brito, Humberto Calzada, Emilio Falero, Fernando Garcia, Juan Gonzalez, Carlos Macia and Cesar Trasobares. The journey of these Cuban-Americans in exile, Santis says, mirrors his own departure from Cuba to Miami as a teenager, and the shock of losing his sense of belonging.
"Being in exile for us is like being a fish out of water," Santis says. "One thing I found interesting at the heart of these works is the melancholia, the yearning for who you were, for what the country used to be. You won't see a direct quote from Castro about his dictatorship, but you will see a longing for the place we miss, because Cuba is our native land."
References to home can be found in the surreal paintings of Emilio Falero, who juxtaposes his Cuban heritage with 17th century Spanish painter Diego Velasquez in works such as "Las Meninas," depicting three women in period dress against a backdrop of industrial cargo ships. Falero's closest allusion to Cuba appears in "As We Wait in Joyful Hope," showing Napoleon's hat and boots perched on a decaying plinth in the Sierra Maestra mountains, the site where Castro coordinated his guerrilla revolution.
Cano, who now works with marionettes built from found objects, will display his puppet menagerie in one alcove of the museum's main gallery. A half-dozen marionettes will be suspended against a semi-transparent wall, their shadows visible from the opposite side, including Cano's "Lady Electra," a robotlike puppet crafted from aluminum trash cans, and "Queen Marie Antoinette," a lifesize re-creation of the French royal.
"We became a thriving art community because of 'The Miami Generation,' " Cano says. "It got reviews, lots of publicity and it traveled the country. We prevailed in Miami. We're all still here and producing."
The Miami Generation: Revisited
When: Saturday, July 12 through Sept. 21 (opening reception: 5:30-9 p.m. Saturday)
Where: NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, One E. Las Olas Blvd.
Contact: 954-525-5500 or MOAFL.org