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Cuban art flourishes in adversity: Wake Forest to launch exhibit in New York City

April 29, 2009

Since 1985, Linda Howe, associate professor of Romance languages at Wake Forest University, has watched first-hand how art—particularly the art of bookmaking—flourishes in adversity.  On May 20, she will see more than two decades of research and work come to fruition when “Cuban Artists’ Books and Prints: 1985-2009” debuts at the Grolier Club of New York on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. 

Designed and executed by Wake Forest students, faculty and staff in collaboration with numerous professionals, the exhibition will feature more than 100 pieces, including handmade, limited-edition books by the bookmaking cooperative Ediciones Vigía and other objects created by 13 contemporary Cuban painters, sculptors, photographers and printmakers such as Sandra Ramos, Sandra Ceballos, Ibrahim Miranda, Carlos Estévez, Rene Peña, Rocío García and Tonel (Antonio Eligio Fernández).  The exhibit will run through Aug. 1.

"A century and more ago, Grolier Club exhibitions helped introduce Americans to artists such as Degas, Whistler and Pennell at a time when their work was new and often controversial," said Eric Holzenberg, director of the Grolier Club. "This show of 'Cuban Artists' Books and Prints' not only represents the continuance of a long tradition within the Grolier Club, but it also reminds us that not everything new is digital, that fresh and thought-provoking work is still being presented through the book and graphic arts."

“This exhibit is primarily about the ingenious resilience of the Cuban artists represented and how they express their experiences of life in Cuba,” said Howe. “But, it is also a testament to the service and entrepreneurial work of more than 200 Wake Forest students, faculty and staff over the years.  Without them, this exhibit never would have happened.”

In 1997, Howe founded Wake Forest’s summer academic program at the University of Havana and directed it until 2005, when student travel to Cuba was severely restricted by the U.S. government.  During the trips, the student groups helped Vigía Press translate and fabricate the books and worked with schoolchildren.  Howe, whose expertise is Cuban cultural production, also performed research for her book “Transgression and Conformity:  Cuban Writers and Artists after the Revolution” during these trips.  As a result, she established strong relationships with artists and writers and began collecting their books. 

In 2007, Howe initiated an interdisciplinary entrepreneurship project to create an exhibition that would bring national and international attention to these artists and their work.  “These artists have survived cultural politics, difficult living conditions and resource shortages that limited their access to the most basic materials, like paper,” she said, “but the project is not about politics.  It’s about living our university motto, ‘Pro Humanitate’—for the good of humanity.”

Work began on the project in the spring of 2007 when groups of students began working with different Wake Forest faculty on various aspects of the exhibit, including the curatorial strategy; business plans; a bilingual exhibition catalog and Web site; promotional materials; and a short film about the artists to be featured as a permanent part of the exhibit.

Last fall, in Howe’s course “Entrepreneurship in Art Education and Educational Outreach:  Cuban Artists’ Books and Prints:  1985-2008,” students organized the exhibition’s content; coordinated its installation, launch and eventual travel; and created educational outreach materials and curriculum to accompany the exhibit.  Several of the students worked with North Carolina teachers and administrators to integrate the exhibit into K-12 instruction through classroom materials, tours, performances and other activities.  The curriculum and outreach materials will be offered to K-12 teachers across the country through the exhibit’s Web site.  

In conjunction with the Grolier Club opening, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) will host a symposium titled “Cuban Artists’ Books” at 1 p.m. on May 20.  Cuban artists and specialists from the exhibit’s various lending institutions will discuss the imagination and resourcefulness of Cuban cultural survival.  Howe, one of the panelists, will describe her experience working with Vigía Press and well-known Cuban artists. 

The symposium will be held in the Celeste Bartos Theater (Theater 3), of the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building.  Tickets are $10; members $8; students, seniors and staff of other museums $5.  For complete details on the symposium or to purchase tickets, visit

Howe will also present a free lecture about the exhibition at 6 p.m. on May 21 at the Grolier Club.  For details on the exhibit and lecture, visit

In August, the exhibit will make its campus debut at Wake Forest’s Charlotte & Philip Hanes Art Gallery, and then it will begin traveling to galleries nationwide. 

The exhibit and symposium are sponsored by MoMA, the Grolier Club, the Reed Foundation, Inc., the Cuban Artists Fund and Wake Forest University, specifically the departments of Romance languages, art and Latin American studies; the Provost’s Office; the Dean of the College; Calloway School of Business and Accountancy; and the Office of Entrepreneurship and Liberal Studies.

Press Contacts:

Pam Barrett
(336) 758-5237

Kevin Cox
(336) 758-5237

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