The divide between Cuba and the U.S. is greater than the 90 miles that separate them. As a post-revolutionary time warp, Cuba poses unique challenges to its artists even as its heritage provides a rich and timeless cultural reservoir from which to draw. As a Kafkaesque kind of conundrum where art supplies can be as hard to come by as ordinary freedom of expression, Cuba forces artists to be extra-resourceful in using whatever is at hand, and the work of Angel Delgado epitomizes this approach.
Known for controversial performance pieces, Delgado once was sentenced to six months in jail for publicly relieving himself on a copy of the Cuban Communist party newspaper. In prison he learned to make art from soap, handkerchiefs and bed sheets, items seen in this show overlaid with his iconic figures, alienated humans confronting locks, barred windows and barbed wire. A series of hanging buckets outlines the dimensions of his former cell. In each is a carved figure with water up to its neck, a metaphor for the looming dread of suffocation that all repression imposes.
The well-known American artist Luis Cruz Azaceta left Cuba as a child. After a stint in New York, he has made New Orleans his home for the past 17 years. His humanistic abstractions confront the absurdities of contemporary life, as we see in Blue (pictured), while others such as Swimming to Havana invoke Cuba in particular. His alienated figures and the beautiful if convoluted nature of his compositions touch on the universal as well as the particular paradoxes of the human condition, but with a hint of the ironic humor in Charlie Chaplin's anti-fascist films. As with Chaplin, Azaceta sees irony as the universal element that underlies both repression and our response to it. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Angel Delgado: Inside/Outside
Through Feb. 20
Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400a Julia St., 522-5471; www.jonathanferraragallery.com
Luis Cruz Azaceta: Swimming to Havana
Through March 28
New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100; www.noma.org
Luis Cruz Azaceta: Exile 50
Through Feb. 20
Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St., 522-1999; www.arthurrogergallery.com