"Luis Rodriguez Noa Brings a Bit of Cuba to Cape Cod"
By Sue Harrison / Banner Correspondent
In America, parents frequently steer their children away from a career in the arts, but in Cuba it is quite another story. Art — music, painting or dancing — is considered a positive expression of the culture, and in this communist Caribbean country, that’s a good thing.
Cuban artist Luis Rodriguez Noa has been preparing to be an artist since he was 12 years old. That’s when his official art training began. He left his family and home in Baracoa to study art in Guantanamo and then Havana, where he still lives and works.
And now, at 6 p.m. on Friday, July 14, Noa will have an opening of a show of his recent work at Galeria Cubana at 357 Commercial St. in Provincetown. He will also give a gallery talk there at 1 p.m. on Sunday, July 16. Galeria Cubana has been representing Cuban artists in both Provincetown and Boston for a decade.
Meeting up with Noa in Havana, it is possible to observe how he pays attention and gathers information about everything around him, and how eventually it all shows up on his canvases. He regards his country with both love and skepticism. And like Cuban artists before him, he uses symbolism and iconography to express that.
"There is still a lot of symbolism to code some messages, though there are a lot of direct messages, too,” Noa says. “I would say that art, like nature, has found its own way. There is still a long way to the ideal, but there is now the feeling that these are times when censorship prefers not to be in the difficult job of censoring [all the time]."
In his artwork — paintings, drawings, sculpture — Noa depicts the chaos of life in Cuba.
"I am concerned about the day to day routine and how it takes so much time to do anything,” he says, noting that resources are scarce, even the basics. “Like if you want to fix something. You have to look for a nail and then a tool. It all takes time. Things don’t work the way they are supposed to, but they do work in a surrealistic way."
He shrugs and smiles. Life is regulated in Cuba but also filled with chance and a little magic. People have come to expect that and don’t understand why it’s even a big deal.
What: Luis Rodriguez Noa discusses his art
Where: Galeria Cubana, 357 Commercial St., Provincetown
When: 1 pm Sunday
An example of this could be observed earlier that day, when a British tourist at a Havana hotel complained to a clerk at the front desk about his drain. The clerk asked the tourist if it was clogged. With much irritation, the man replied that it drains, but very slowly. The clerk, well trained in hospitality, put on a look of concern and promised to check it out. But in his face it was also possible to discern his amazement that someone would complain about something that actually worked.
Noa has written that his art explores "the unexpected movement, humor, passion and lyricism that can be found in the streets: from the bizarre to the beautiful, from the ordinary to the magical. In short, I want to portray a world made of dreams that is vibrant, full of life, and intellectual."
Cubans have more opportunities these days. They can start small businesses selling souvenirs, open rooftop restaurants or just dress up like dancers from the legendary Tropicana and pose with tourists for a little cash. But many are still crammed into too-small apartments where a neighbor might as well be in the same room. And everything is difficult to accomplish.
One of Noa’s installation works from 2004, “Relativity Theory,” expresses just that.
"It depicts a tall table, out of proportion with the normal size chair,” he says. “The table is illuminated on top, from inside, and on top of it there are 12 hourglasses, but I made it with oil bottles — real oil — instead of sand.” He explains that oil is a basic need not covered by the rations book everyone gets. Oil is expensive and getting enough each month is an achievement.
“The table is tall, symbolizing that it is not at the easy reach of the people,” he says. “And the hourglass refers to the time people spend here trying to solve basic problems. The table’s upper part also is like a suitcase, referring to travel and dreams to pursue.”
Noa has found that things don’t always work in America either. On a visit in 2014 he wanted to buy art supplies not available in Cuba. Cubans don’t have credit cards, so he brought $2,000 in cash, a lot of money for a Cuban. In Miami he went to Wells Fargo and asked if he could open a bank account and get a debit card. He showed them his passport, said that he was a Cuban citizen and that he was going home after his visit. They assured him that it wouldn’t be a problem. But as soon as he tried to use the debit card, he was told that his account was frozen because he was a Cuban. He has been trying to get his money back ever since, to no avail. It’s still held up at Wells Fargo.
He turned what happened to him into a painting, in which the “theft” of his money has become a western fable using the iconic Wells Fargo stage coach.
“You have to learn how to work with life like that, or you have to make another revolution,” Noa says. “You learn how to make art with that. Life here is like looking at a very big animal. You don’t know how it works, but it does. Like trying to change things you cannot change, you learn to work with that. Or the seasons — you don’t try to change the seasons, you just work with them.”Source Link: More information