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Normalizing U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations may paint a new picture for artists

by Brian De Los Santos | The Frame

Artist Esterio Segura has a solo exhibition at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. Brian De Los Santos

With President Obama’s recent announcement to re-establish diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana,  Cuban artists and their art might travel more easily to the United States. But for some Cuban artists, such as Esterio Segura, 50 years without diplomatic relations between the two countries have set them back.

“It’s ridiculous that up to this time in the 21st century, I’m living around the corner of this country ... and for very [ridiculous] things, we weren’t able to make the whole thing under control,” Segura says.

His new exhibition at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach was pushed back because transporting the artwork from Havana took longer than expected. (Artwork is exempt from the embargo because it’s “informational material,” but it’s still thoroughly inspected when entering the U.S.)

Segura’s collection at MOLAA is comprised of different projects he's worked on over the years. The work provides windows to life in Cuba, as Segura highlights migration, culture, government and censorship issues — something U.S. audiences do not often see.

“The visual arts scene and the performing arts scene in the United States has been lacking the presence of Cuban art,” says Stuart Ashman, president and CEO of MOLAA.

Ashman, who grew up in Cuba, has been following the art scene there for years. When he collaborated with Segura on a previous project, he approached the artist with the museum exhibition opportunity.

“He’s definitely one of the top three Cuban artists,” Ashman says.

This is Segura’s first solo museum show in the U.S. And although he’s not the first Cuban artist to exhibit his art in a major institution such as MOLAA, Ashman says, “it’s rare to see this.”

“I think it’s important to make a connection with the [United States],” Segura says. “We are only a half-an-hour difference from the States and people here don’t really know much about Cuba. For people in Cuba … we have a very old idea about what the United States is.”

For Segura, his work is his communication tool.

“How to get together, how we have to understand each other, how we should be able to share ideas,” he says. “And for me, this [embargo] is one frustration about the possibility to talk to people [with] whatever I want to say.”

Esterio Segura's solo exhibition is on display at MOLAA through Feb. 15. 

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