For the last 10 years, Paulo Acosta Cabezas, a San Francisco resident who owns the the Mamá Art Cafe in the Excelsior and the Cara y Cabezas Contemporary Gallery in Kansas City, has been going to the Havana Biennial Art Exhibition.
On those trips he fell in love with the work Cubans were producing and two years ago began preparing the exhibition, “Feminine Voices and Poetics,” which opened Friday night at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Art.
The show, which will be open for a week, includes more than five dozen works of art – primarily photography, but also paintings, engravings and multimedia.
“This is work that has not left Cuba since she passed away,” said Cabezas as he stood in front of two prints by Belkis Ayón.
The show is dedicated to the young artist who committed suicide in 1999 at the age of 32. A Ayón print of a black and white collograph – a collage made with successive layers of prints – shows human figures laying face down as they peer down a black hole.
Much of Ayón’s work developed through her study of the Afro-Cuban religion of Abakuá. The image, however, conveys a universal existential angst. The figures surround the black hole, and while we cannot see their faces, the body language suggests they are looking into an abyss.
In a 1997 interview with David Mateo in La Gaceta de Cuba, Ayón said of Abakuá’s influence, ”I have always been distant from the Abakuá mythology because my position is rather that of an observer. The distance in fact is the perspective in which I find myself to establish the analogies and to incorporate any universal experience in the specific logic of the myth.”
Another beautiful piece is a color print by Susana Pilar Delahante Matienzo, a woman in her 20s, that shows a young curl curled up languidly on a tiled Cuban floor reading a magazine. She is near a bed and its mattress is covered in leaves. The girls relaxed pose and a small dresser in the background, the bottom shelf filled with worn shoes, gives the scene a normalcy that the leaves unsettle.
Acosta Cabezas selected a good range of images and he has prepared a catalogue that can be ordered by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on Belkis Ayón, here is a 2009 piece from NPR.
The gallery at the Mission Cultural Center at 2868 Mission St. is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.