MSU Exhibition Artists in Cuba

Exhibition artists Ben Jones, Howardena Pindell, Victor Davson, Nanette Carter, Mel Edwards

BALTIMORE — Three members of Morgan State University’s staff traveled to Cuba this summer, as part of an event that sought to unite African Americans and Afro Cubans through art. ‎

Diala Toure, Curator of Collections at The James E. Lewis Museum of Art; Pamela Scott-Johnson, Associate Professor and Interim Dean of College of Liberal Arts; and Robin Howard, the Associate Director of the Center of Museums made the 10-day journey to the city of Havana for the opening of an exhibition on African American art at the Museo de Artes Universales.

The 10-day event (from July 28-Aug 6) included workshops led by some of Cuba’s most notable writers, historians, artists and teachers. The women said what they found was a country that used art to communicate and to live. They said the country was hot, filled with music. The buildings were richly appointed and intricately decorated.

“Cuba is art,” Scott -Johnson said. “We couldn’t be sitting here right now without somebody playing music, somebody dancing, somebody drawing,” she added.

The gathering was a first for the country.

“What we were privy to had not happened in that country, ever,” Scott. “The fact that African American artists joined Cuban artists and therefore leading intellectuals had not been on the same platform, ever.”

She said it was a rare opportunity for herself and other staff to see what life is like for other people of color, in a country that is virtually closed off from the United States.

City street in Havana reflects Cuban culture witnessed by Morgan visitors.

“One of the things that I hadn’t been as prescient to was the vastness of the African diaspora. We have a certain way that we talk about discrimination and racism and colorism and we fail in some ways to understand that might be happening to our brothers and sisters across the diaspora. Cuba has just begun to talk about it in the open,” she said. “We don’t typically think of a socialist country as having a kind of racism, I think that was my own naivety.”

Toure got a chance to get one-on-one with acclaimed artists, and begin a dialogue with them.

“I was able to experience art in a very unique way. I couldn’t even imagine something better than that,” she said. “For me, it was a fabulous experience.”

“The goal is to take this experience and strengthen how we share the culture of diaspora,” said Scott-Johnson. “We need to have the public re-imagine and re-ignite their love of culture.”

Most of all, she said, she was left with a sense of pride and a sense of connection.

“We have been chained and whipped and put out in fields,” she said. “We lose ourselves in who they are and yet we still stand. Stronger than any other people in the world, we are still standing.”

“We fail to recognize who we are even when we interact with our brothers and sisters over the diaspora, like ‘I ain’t you and you ain’t me.’ Yeah, you are me and I am you and that’s what it reminded me of.”