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place: Scarfone/Hartley Gallery, University of Tampa.

date: March 4th, 2016


Guest curator: David Horta

Co-curator: Jack King

Executive project coordination and production: Dorothy Cowden, Jack King.

Director of Scarfone/Hartley Gallery: Dorothy Cowden

Potential contributors: The Susie & Mitchell Rice Collection, Moleiro’s Gallery, Pinar del Río Museum of Art (MAPRI), RUN Art Foundry

Curatorial statement and notes.

The exhibition title, GROWING UP IN NEVERLAND, makes reference to a worldwide known story originally made for children, Peter Pan and Wendy, written by James Matthew Barrie in 1904. Beneath the overflowing phantasy, Barrie’s original plot alludes to a very basic human aspiration, that of daydreaming and selfrealization,flying away from life’s constant pain and distress, which would mean holding a hideout in a realm of never-ending childhood and adventure, where neither decay nor death finds its way into the soul. This ideal can be confronted, in a deeper layer of psychological subtext, with its nemesis, the dread and the agony of growing up, of facing adult compromise and responsibilities, apprehension about the burden of memory and knowledge with the consequential moral awakening to real life. The fable of Peter Pan thus serves as conceptual and metaphoric underpinning to the readings, questions and dialogues this exhibition seeks to arouse, concerning the nature of some of Cuban contemporary art’s most compelling subject matters in the last decade, in a context of traumatic changes and revalidations around its social core. Today Barrie’s fables convey set narratives and symbols that have been globally codified, above all, thanks to Disney’s and Hollywood’s dream-making machinery.

But deep under their illusory covering of games and adventures, fairies, mermaids and pirates obsessed with the destruction of that limbo of eternal and sweet animality, which is Neverland, Peter Pan and the lost children (1) allude to the commotions and insecurities associated to the ritual of initiation in adulthood, to facing the dilemmas and challenges of mature life (i.e., the aftermath of the interior process of individuation and the ensuing moral autonomy acquired by the individual, that atavistic “fear of liberty” referred to by Eric Fromm). Such confusion and anxiety materialize, consciously or not, in the denial of or the impossibility to remember, and therefore, to discern, recognize, comprehend. In the original fable, Peter Pan’s ability to fly, to open imaginary windows and doors to escape from embarrassing or dangerous situations, doesn’t it come from his capacity to conceive only “happy thoughts” at will, as much as his eternal pre-adolescence depends on oblivion, on his capacity to forget?
Opposite to that kind of escapism, one of the great challenges of Cuban art and society, expressed in the works selected for this exhibition, has been precisely that of a “leap in the dark”, of maturing in self-awareness and freedom, which means to start remembering and thinking of itself also in the most controverted, uncomfortable matters, the ones that have been put off by a perception management system that holds sway over speech, silence, memory and oblivion by virtue of a collective ideal of future and the need of consensus to achieve it, which has, in turn, plunged most of Cuban society in a state of perpetual political infancy.
The works selected for the exhibition weave all the cultural references directly or indirectly connected to Barrie’s story, as well as its psychological and sociological inferences, into an allegory of the painstaking process of growing up and “becoming an adult”, maturing in social and self-awareness by advocating for a critical outlook on reality, freedom of expression, a straightforward revision of collective memory and a sense of belonging and identity that challenges the stoneetched discourse sanctioned by an ideological and political establishment.
Embarking on such an adventure, while living in a self-secluded society, inhibited by a set of ideological constructs and haunted by History and its sense of predetermination, has been a tremendous task for Cuban post-revolutionary art.
There has also been the challenge of doing it in a way that is not mimetic, flippant or demagogic, but substantial and aesthetically significant. If the title makes up for a coherent symbolic, allegoric reading of the exhibition, another aspect that apportions conceptual consistency to the whole is the ludic character of works and processes here presented, where playfulness, humor and ambiguity, and critical understanding, intellectual depth and straightforwardness, are not mutually exclusive.
On the other hand, the fact of being an island amongst clouds turns the fantastic Neverland (2) into a keynote that allows resuming essential aspects of the dialogue between Tampa-based audiences and the works in the exhibition. At the time it operates from a very specific cultural reference common to all, the expression “to grow up in Neverland” also implies paradoxes that will have to be transcribed, within the show, to the context in which the group of artists here presented have lived and continue to live and create: post-revolutionary Cuba. Such a paradox is related to the act of growing, be it physically, intellectually or spiritually (creatively) in a incongruous enclave, the configuration of which is based on a material, tangible reality, like an island in the Caribbean, as much as it is an entelechy (in the style of T. S. Eliot,’s The Waste Land, “made out of memory and desire”), a sort of mental, sentimental topography made out of dreams, reminiscences, ideological and cultural constructs that are suspended in time and History, amidst ceaseless dialectic oppositions (3).

(1) Who, let it be said in passing, already had their own symbolic incarnation in the history of political and ideological confrontations between USA and Cuba in the early post-revolutionary era: the “Peter Pan Operation”, when hundreds of children were “expatriated” from the island by their own families (on the other size of the straits, they would say the children were “rescued” from communism).
(2) By the way, according to some bio-bibliographic studies, Barrie’s “Neverland”, as well as Stevenson’s “treasure island”, might have been inspired by the colonial chronicles of the fertile northern Caribbean islands, also abundant, in the no less fertile European mind, in fantastic stories of Indians, pirates and hidden treasures. Among those isles, one particularly important in the imagination of writers was “The Isle of Pines”, in the south-west Cuban archipelago (in a sort of literary-prophetic irony, after the Revolution it was re-baptized “The Isle of Youth”)
(3) One where notions like “always”, “eternal”, “future”, “never”, “past”, “all”, “nothing”, “here”, “there”, “us”, “then”.., acquire meta-linguistic, meta-mathematical and metaphysical reverberations, turning into irreconcilable antagonists, continuously charged with symbolic energy in a battleground of mutual dialectic negation.
(4) Like, to mention but a few, Plato’s “Atlantis”, R. L. Stevenson’s “The treasure Island”, Thomas Moore’s “Utopia”, Campanella’s “The Island of the Sun”, Dafoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”, Ithaca, in Homer’s “Odyssey”, and other dystopian or “social experiment” isles, like the “island of the giants” and the “island of the Lilliputians” in Swift’s “Gulliver travels” or the one in “The Lord of the flies” by William Goldsmith.

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