Galería Cubana had simply run out of room. So owner Michelle Wojcik, who has been showing the work of Cuban artists in Provincetown for 12 years — and at the current space at 357 Commercial St. since 2009 — bought the store next door and broke through. The public’s first glimpse of the newly expanded gallery is expected to be this Friday, July 19, in time for the opening of “Reminiscence,” an exhibit of Karlos Perez’s paintings (see sidebar on this page).
How did Wojcik, who is not Cuban-American, wind up running Galería Cubana? Like life in Cuba, the story is a bit meandering, even though it does go from point A to point B.
Wojcik’s first Cuban gallery opened in 2007 in the warren of shops at 234 Commercial. A couple of years later, she moved to her current location — and also opened a second Galería Cubana in Boston, which closed in January 2018.
But the real beginning was back in 1999, when Wojcik had the opportunity to study for a month at the School of International Relations in Havana. At the time, she was a Ph.D. student in anthropology. Fascinated by Cuba, she returned in 2001 and obtained work at the World Policy Institute’s Cuba Project. Her intention was to write her dissertation on Cuba. Then she spent the summer of 2002 in Havana and fell in love with the art scene there.
“I was very taken by their warmth and generosity, their interest in family and how they survive under great strife because they are all in it together,” Wojcik says of the Cuban people. “I learned how little any American understands about Cuba. It’s American life upside down. There is healthcare and education for everyone. It was refreshing to be out of materialism.”
She continued her work at the World Policy Institute for three years, then left and found herself in an entrepreneurship workshop. The instructor asked her what she would do if she could do anything. She answered, almost without thinking: to buy and sell art from Cuba. Well, then, her instructor said, why not go for it?
“I had been grappling with doing something more creative,” Wojcik says. “Taking a leap into art was certainly a move.”
The workshop coincided with a visit to Provincetown. She was struck by how much art was in town and by the open and progressive people. When the workshop ended in April, she had a business plan, rented a space and jumped in.
Her new career was made easier by Cuba’s safeness for visitors and by the Cubans themselves. “Culturally, the people are warm and generous and educated,” Wojcik says. “I make many, many deals on a handshake alone, just on trust. Cubans are very approachable — even the very successful ones.”
Still, buying Cuban art is complicated because of money restrictions; an American is only allowed to bring $5,000 in cash into Cuba. Dealing with banks or credit cards is impossible. It’s a cash and carry business. When Wojcik visits artists in Cuba, she pays them for their work and brings back what she has bought. She has also worked out a consignment arrangement, to overcome the $5,000 restriction.
Exchange of money aside, artists in Cuba are much freer than most Americans would imagine, but there are some limitations. They have a complex system of metaphor and imagery — even the use of certain colors may contain a message. And like artists everywhere, much of their work deals with life and beauty, nostalgia and dreams — subjects beyond problems with the government.
“Their work is amazing,” Wojcik says. “They have something to say, and are incredibly resourceful and innovative. But there is a shortage of materials. It takes creativity to get around those shortages.” Artists can’t just go out and buy paint, canvas or brushes. But they find a way.
When Wojcik started Galería Cubana, there were only five things Cubans could do as private enterprise, and one of them was art. The American government restricted most trade with Cuba, but buying and selling art was and is still allowed, even under the new Trump rules. What will be ending, due to new Trump administration restrictions, is everyday travel to Cuba for cultural reasons. Wojcik has been leading groups to Cuba for years, but her tour scheduled for late January may be the last. She was lucky enough to get her plans approved before the Trump edict came down.
The Cubans remain concerned about what Trump might do. “He has been preaching to them about human rights and democracy, and that’s a joke,” she says, adding that he has no moral standing to talk about human rights in light of what is happening at the Texas border with detentions and separations of families. She says that large numbers of Cubans are among those seeking asylum at the border.
On the flip side, Cubans are allowed by their government to travel. It is economically prohibitive for many, but if they can afford it, they can go. Since Trump closed the American embassy in Havana, Cubans now have to go to the Bahamas or Mexico to get their American visas. But every year, a few of Wojcik’s artists make the trek to Provincetown, bringing new work with them.
Three artists will be coming this season: Karlos Perez for his show on Friday, Edel Bordon for his show on Aug. 2, and Orestes Gaulhiac for his show on Aug. 16.
Wojcik’s space crunch is partly due to the fact that the artwork by the Cuban artists she represents has gotten bigger and bigger. “It’s fun for them,” she says. “A lot of modern houses have bigger wall space, and it is often easier to hang one large piece than to curate a wall of smaller pieces.”
She remains dedicated to all of their work, large or small. “In life, it’s really important to do something you are passionate about,” Wojcik says. “In many ways, I have been very fortunate, but there has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears. And believe me, a lot of my life is very unglamorous.” She laughs. “And some of it is glamorous,” she admits.
It wasn’t always possible over the years to indulge her love of travel. “As a sole proprietor, it is hard to balance the time requirements with other things,” she says. Last year, after closing the Boston gallery, “I wondered, can a seasonal gallery sustain me? It did. And I realized I hadn’t had a proper vacation since I began.”
So she went to Ireland, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Santa Fe, N.M.
But Wojcik’s focus is still on her gallery and her Cuban artists. “I’m here for the long haul,” she says.Source Link: More information