Preparing for Our America — From Cuba with Love: The Influence of Cuban Posters on Latino Art

July 10, 2013

In this blog post Curatorial Assistant Florencia Bazzano-Nelson explores the rich links between Latino art and the Cuban poster movement, which captivated artists in the United States and abroad in the 1960s and 1970s. The works discussed below will be featured in the upcoming exhibition Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art, opening October 25, 2013, along with other works that attest to the importance of graphics and international artistic models for Latino artists.

If Cuban poster art took the imagination of many American artists by storm, it was a perfect storm. In the 1960s and early 1970s, a revolutionary social experiment was underway in Cuba. This change inspired some artists in New York and San Francisco to focus on social transformation in their work. As a way of engaging popular culture and the mass media, pop artists promoted screen printing, a relatively new media that facilitated poster production. Partly inspired by American pop art, Cubans generated thousands of posters which were sent all over the world.

Cuban posters arrived in the United States brought by visitors to the Caribbean nation and as inserts in the magazine Tricontinental that the Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL) published in Havana since 1966. The high aesthetic quality and creative diversity of these prints moved McGraw-Hill to publish an oversized book entitled The Art of Revolution: Castro's Cuba: 1959-70 with full-color reproductions of almost 100 posters. An important exhibition of Cuban posters in 1974 took place at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Latino artists living in New York and the Bay Area, especially those who supported the civil rights movement and the struggle against colonialism, appreciated how successfully Cuban posters blended art with politics.

Chicanos Rupert García, José Cervantes, and Luis and Hector González, as well as Puerto Ricans Marcos Dimas and Carlos Irizarry often favored the bold graphic style and prominent use of text that characterized many Cuban posters. Like their Cuban counterparts, Latino artists shared a concern for world-wide colonial oppression. As a response to Cuban artist Raul Martinez's serialized images of Che Guevara, Dimas honors Lolita Lebron, a radical Puerto Rican independence activist. Both Irizarry and Garcia transform images from the media into compelling denunciations of the Vietnam war and its aftermath. For their part, Cervantes and the Gonzalez brothers adopt Che Guevara's famous phrase "Hasta la victoria, siempre!" or "Towards Victory, Always" in their posters that support United Farm Workers union. Such references to Cuban art inscribed these artists' work into a larger global context, internationalizing their art as part of the Third World's peoples plight for social justice.

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