The eastern end of Cuba is far removed from the hustle and bustle of Havana, the country’s capital. Highways did not reach the 500-year-old seaport of Baracoa until the mid-’60s and even today there is more traffic from pedestrians and bikes than from cars.
But remote does not mean removed. The creative spirit and artistic talent ingrained in the Cuban culture and character is as much a part of the Oriente area as it is of anywhere else on the Caribbean island.
Until recently, it was rarely, if ever, seen in the United States.
Now, thanks to the efforts of the Friendship Association, a nonprofit formed in St. Augustine in 2000 to promote relations between Cubans and Americans — as well as to Jean Blackburn, a Sarasota artist who has visited Baracoa multiple times — that’s changing. Locals are being afforded a glimpse of Oriente’s treasures and an opportunity to meet a few of its artists through “Cuban Imagination: The Art of Oriente & Beyond,” an exhibition at New College of Florida.
“It has a whole different feeling from the art in Havana,” says Soledad Pagliuca, a Friendship Association volunteer and editor of Ediciones Nuevos Mundos, a wing of the organization that publishes books on eastern Cuba. “There’s a certain feeling in the art that is almost like magical realism in literature.”