It is tempting to say that Cuba is a state of mind. Although much divides that nation's citizens from the expatriate community in this country, there is a certain sensibility that pervades Cuban art regardless of where it was made — a surreal quality that goes back to the Caribbean cultural milieu melded with a Cuban dash of drama, as we see in the Inside/Outside expo at Octavia Art Gallery. Havana painter Reuben Rodriguez Martinez is the biggest surprise. Although his abstract and earth-toned nudes in some ways hark to Miro and Picasso, they also reflect a distinctly Caribbean sensibility that melds surrealism with the spirit realm.
Spirits of a more concrete sort are suggested in Victoria Montoro Zamorano's photographs of moldering old buildings in Havana, where the antique baroque architecture leavened with centuries of decay yields some decidedly ghostly vistas. Throw in some remarkably colorful people, and a sense of time traveling street theater is pervasive. The varied, if decorous, works of Ruben Alpizar, Jose Choy and Luisa Mesa round out this exotic grab bag of a show.
The Identity expo at Heriard-Cimino features a multinational mixed menu of work, including large photographs by Carlos Betancourt (pictured), a Miami artist of Cuban ancestry. Here psychedelic images of exotic men and women in the throes of bizarre shamanic rites — a conceptual cocktail of psychotropic flights of fancy — cast a spell that is spooky yet intriguing and a colorful contrast to Cuban expatriate painter Jose Bedia's more austere Santeria-inspired work. But the paintings of Mexican artist Carlos Villasante explore the inner recesses of the identity theme even as New Orleans painter Sharon Jacques' canvases take us across the globe to the strangest encounter of all: Islamic traditions and pop culture. All of these works suggest how some things remain the same even in an age of perpetual change. — D. Eric Bookhardt