El Museo de las Bellas Artes – Zeke Anders

The Museo de las Bellas Artes (Museum of the Fine Arts) in Old Havana not only contains an expansive collection of Cuban and foreign art, but also functions as a manifestation for the evolution of art as a result of political and economic dynamics. Each floor has a chronological progression, beginning with the colonial period of Cuban history. Early works from artists in the late 1800’s such as Federico Martinez took the form of intricately detailed portraits of white bourgeoisie; stylistically very similar to European art which reflected the colonial status of the island. After the second war of independence ended in 1898, the Cuban people broke away from the Spanish, and the art of the time changed drastically in kind. Rather than thoroughly realist portraits of upper class individuals, painters began to depict scenes that reflected the identity of the common people; such as the countryside, the forests, the farmers, and Jose Marti, the most well known intellectual and symbol of nationalism. During the Machadato in the 1930’s, a period marked by extreme political strife and public unrest, art mirrored the tension and frustration of the suffering public. Revolutionary and contemporary works brought a much darker and violent style, and expanded three dimensional arts beyond the traditional statues and busts to include sculptures and metal works. Broader political concepts, such as international relations and war, dominated, and continue to dominate, the Revolutionary period in the country, and there is a clear trend of using male imagery to convey machismo and war mongering. Additionally, an abundance of representations featuring Cuban heroes adorn the walls, such as Jose Marti, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Camilo Cienfuegos. This can be attributed to the concerted efforts of the current government to enforce nationalism and instill pride in the people; for example, the “Be Like Che” campaign of the 1990’s. In summation, artistic expression and economic and political conditions are frequently bound together, and any study of Cuban art is inevitably a study of the political history of the country. The Museo de las Bellas Artes does a phenomenal job of presenting the artwork in such a way that it makes apparent the dynamic nature of its subject with respect to the many influences that it encompasses. As students of Cuban culture and history, the Museo de las Bellas Artes is an invaluable experience, and I for one learned a great deal in one visit, and plan on making another in the near future.