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← to Havana

“Havana” by Camila Cabello has been stuck in my head since I first heard the song in late October. Then, learning that Havana was an actual place sparked my interest even more and led me to find Mobile’s Alabama Contemporary Art Center whose Back to Havana Exhibit opened last September. The exhibit, which will be open until June 1, 2018, was  provides some history about Havana, which has been Mobile’s Sister City for twenty-five years. Mobile even brought baseball, now the national sport, to Cuba in 1868.

Looking at the art in the exhibit made me want to know more about the mission of educating the community and students in schools, so I contacted Director of Exhibitions and Programs Amanda Solley to learn how the program is going.

How has the educational aspects of the exhibit been delivered/received?

Alabama Contemporary Art Center’s programs are designed to serve all audiences, beginning with pre-k and ending with senior citizens…So far, we feel we have been very successful in guiding the public through the culture of Cuba, likely due in part to the air of mystery that surrounds the country combined with the public’s general fascination with the country “stuck in the past”. The programs have been multifaceted and successfully start with the audiences own culture before exploring Cuba’s though the works of art in the exhibit.

How do you connect with artists with such diverse styles?

The goal of the exhibit was to present a very broad snapshot of Cuba as it is today. With this in mind, I intentionally sought out artists from all backgrounds and various age groups, with unique approaches to artistic expression. The diverse artwork in the exhibit is a result of multiple voices with each of their distinct perspectives represented to tell a specific story. The difference between the group of artists I worked with from Cuba and a group of artists from America is that Cubans do not have the luxury of walking into an art supply or hardware store and choosing from a vast selection of materials. Cuban culture is all about using what you have, so the materials used by each artist and their approach to expression reflects which materials are most accessible to them where they work, and how it connects with the story they are telling. 

Adding to this question she explained that she met artists Alfonso and Sosa at the University of Alabama where they had Cuba Week in October 2016.

What have you, as Director of Exhibitions and Programs, learned from this experience?

It would take a long time to list the lessons I have learned from studying and visiting Cuba, but I think the aspect of this new culture that stood out the most was the awe-inspiring spirit of innovation, and the individuals’ overall sense of optimism in the face of extremely tumultuous social and political change, and the extreme poverty and restrictive laws preventing open and free connection to the rest of the world. I also gained a wealth of knowledge about Cuba’s history, especially between Mobile (my hometown), and Havana, Cuba’s capital city. Mobile and Havana were the first Cuban and American cities to form a sister city relationship, paving the way for exchanges and research between dozens of curious cities and governmental entities and Cuba. Another very interesting piece of history that I learned while researching Mobile and Havana’s past is that baseball, now considered the national sport of Cuba (loved by Cubans as Americans love football), was introduced to the country in the 1860s when two Cuban students returned from Mobile’s own Springhill College, subsequently forming the first baseball team in Cuba: The Havana Base Ball Club. Shortly after, in 1869 (during the Cuban War of Independence/Ten Years’ War), Spanish leaders attempted to ban the sport as it challenged the Spanish traditional pastime of bullfighting. Cuban’s then associated baseball with Cuban Independence and sovereignty.

How would you describe this learning experience?
I can confidently say that I am an entirely different person than I was before I accepted the challenge of curating this exhibit. I was shamefully clueless about the culture of this country that sits only 300 miles off the coast of Florida, and being prompted to research it within the parameters of the project sparked my curiosity for cultures all across the world, leading me to find connections between the culture of where I live and theirs – helping me to better understand the world, and, in turn, gaining a more profound understanding of myself and my home. With this refreshed outlook and curiosity, I hope to inspire guests to our organization to challenge themselves to understand a culture quite different from their own.