Newark Museum Opens Ajiaco: Stirrings of the Cuban Soul

The Newark Museum presents Ajiaco: Stirrings of the Cuban Soul on view through August 14, 2011

This exhibition consists of more than fifty objects, including paintings, works on paper, photographs, sculpture, installations, and audio works by 22 artists. “Ajiaco: Stirrings of the Cuban Soul” features such major figures in Cuban art as Wifredo Lam, Manuel Mendive, Jose Bedia and Sandra Ramos.

Manuel Mendive (b. 1944), Se Alimenta mi Espíritu, (My Soul is Nourished), 2007, Acrylic on canvas, 64 ¾ x 95 in. (164.34 x 241.3 cm.) Collection of Ramón and Nercys Cernuda, Florida

Ajiaco seeks to interpret the diverse social dimensions of Cuban art in a global context through the exploration of its relationship with African, Asian, European, and Indigenous influences and belief systems. The art incorporates the tales of the Orisha of Africa, the calligraphy of Chinese Tao Te Ching, and the rituals of indigenous peoples. The formats change, the materials vary, but the mix remains constant in both Cuban and Cuban American art. Ajiaco: Stirrings of the Cuban Soul is not necessarily about one group however; it explores diaspora, embracing those aspects of Latin American culture that are sympathetic to all. In broader terms, this project addresses both the immigrant experience and the expression of cultural identity in a new place. The curator, Dr. Gail Gelburd, writes, “Isolated and yet educated, restricted and yet heralded, the Cuban artist embodies the angst of their situation and yet embraces the loftiest of goals. Their syncretist tradition and heritage allows them to go beyond the monotheistic traditions in order to find the origins of their soul, the geist or inner spirit of their art.

In 1939, anthropologist Fernando Ortiz characterized Cuban culture as ajiaco, a rich stew consisting of a large variety of ingredients. The ingredients of the “stew” include Catholicism brought in by the Spaniards; the spirituality of the Yoruba slaves and their cultural traditions from Africa; and the Chinese indentured servants who brought Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. The base of the stew is the indigenous people, such as Tainos, who were almost wiped out by the Spaniards. This exhibition is a survey of modern and contemporary Cuban artists that explores these rich cultural roots of Cuban art. In contemporary society, the “stew” has become thicker and richer as the influences become more complex and intermixed: the artist now borrows not only from the traditional cultures that populated the island, but also appropriates from contemporary everyday life. The exhibition includes works by leading artists in a variety of media, from paintings, works on paper and photography to mixed-media sculpture and installations.

This exhibition is curated by Dr. Gail Gelburd and organized by the Lyman Allyn Art Museum.

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