Most Americans probably think Cuban art consists primarily of paintings of cigars, musical retrospectives of Ricky Ricardo or hands-on multimedia exhibits on cocaine trafficking. We can ignore the plight of Cubans fleeing north through the Caribbean to seek a democratic government or feel unaffected by America's enduring embargo because really, what we like to focus on are the movies portraying Cuba's seductive dances and rich foods. That's the island's legacy in America's consciousness—and 2,000 refugees annually choose to escape that lifestyle? What are they? Crazy? It's like Fantasy Island down there, right?
If so many escapees emigrate to the U.S., what about the culture they've left behind? The Museum of Latin American Art is currently offering a realistic counterpoint to our preconceived notions about this passionate land. In its exhibition "Unbroken Ties: Dialogues in Cuban Art," the paradisiacal image of sultry sunshine is juxtaposed with images of the land's social deterioration, partly attributed to an extremely low birth rate and dwindling economy. While the men of Miami Viceseductively downed the island's mojitos and chased after its bronzed brunettes, 38 Cuban artists and 26 exiles scattered across the globe created art in various mediums to convey the "survival and perpetuity of Cuban values and the Cuban character beyond the island."
Sure, they physically left their plantain and sugar-cane roots behind, but their art can endure long enough to remind us that both long nights of the cha-cha and memories of a troubled society are things you will take to your new homeland. But I guess thousands of emigrants already know that.
"Unbroken Ties: Dialogues of Cuban Art" at the Museum of Latin American Art, 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach, (562) 437-1689; www.molaa.com. Tues.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. $3-$5.