Amidst the Revelry in Miami, Cuban Artists Document Changing Times

Issue #3 of Steadfast Magazine launches at a time of celebration, sorrow, and upheaval.

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Dec 2 2016, 4:30pm

Christina Arza, Nidia in Cuba, 1956; Replication #1, 2014

(Danilo Maldonado Machado) should be in Miami this week, celebrating his work on view at Miami and attending the launch party forthe latest issue of a bi-annual arts publication founded by photographer  and mixed media artist . Instead, the graffiti artist and activist is behind bars, detained by Cuban authorities for publicly mocking Fidel Castro's death.
El SextoArt Concept Steadfast Magazine, Christina ArzaChelsea Kozak

El Sexto, who has been imprisoned several times by the Castro regime, was arrested in Havana, Cuba on Saturday, November 26, shortly after the announcement of Castro's death. He'd been shouting "Abajo Fidel, Abajo Raúl" in the street and was on the phone with the Miami New Times when the arrest occurred. There is still no official charge for his detention.

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El Sexto, photographed by Christina Arza

El Sexto is just one outspoken Cuban artist profiled in La Libertad Artistica, the third issue of Steadfast Magazine. A showcase of work by Cuban and Cuban-American artists, the issue is being released amidst the bedlam of Miami Art Week.

Arza and Kozak founded Steadfast Magazine following the removal of the US-Cuba trade embargo, in order to reflect on the nature of the two nations' relationship. In turn, the launch party for La Libertad Artistica is meant to celebrate the profound fragility of the freedom experienced—or not experienced—by many Cuban artists. Curated by Arza and New York artist Ashley Catharine Smith, the accompanying show features several artists highlighted in issue three—including Armando Valladares, Ellen Silverman, Hector Frank, Geandy Pavón, Chantel Simpson, and Brian Batt, plus an installation by Tiffany Smith and live music by the Latin Grammy-winning Cuban musician, Pepe Montes.

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Geandy Pavón

The celebration of Cuban and Cuban-American art—inherently notable in itself, for Cuba's outsized role in Miami's cultural history—feels even more relevant now. With Castro's passing, coupled with the 2014 lifting of the trade embargo, there's been a deep shift in national sentiment. Questions about Cuba's political future, the influence of the US election, and continuing social upheaval abound.

Arza, a second generation Cuban herself,  explains that the embargo alone "was, for some, celebrated, and for others it was a disgrace." Arza's mother, Eris, introduced her to Cuban poet, artist, and human rights activist Valladares, who is profiled in this issue of Steadfast Magazine. "Armando was arrested and imprisoned at the age of 23 for 22 years," she says. "He suffered torture, labor camps, hunger strikes, and spent eight years naked in a solitary confinement cell. His story was the catalyst for La Libertad Artistica."

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Hector Frank

In addition to Valladares and El Sexto, artists and activists like Rachel Valdés Camejo, Lissette Schaeffler, and Tania Bruguera are interviewed and profiled in the issue. The launch party for La Libertad Artistica is at the Colonial Florida Cultural and Convention Center, located in Miami's Allapattah neighborhood. The sweeping, salmon-colored structure—part chapel, part museum—is located next door to Corpus Christi Church. The building houses artwork from Latin America's colonial period, and it's flush with Baroque detailing, four-story columns, and subtle grandeur. It's a fitting place to examine Cuba's past and present.

Says Arza, "[El Sexto's] detainment could be due in part to his opposition toward the lack of artistic freedom under the existing Cuban regime. We are trying to remain hopeful." In light of this, the event will function as an examination of Cuba's history, art, and its future. Amidst a changing world, a group of emerging and established artists are convening in Miami to interrogate cultural shifts, as well as what, evidently, says the same.

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A flag at Corpus Christi Church after Fidel's death

Steadfast Magazine presents La Libertad Artistica at Corpus Christi Church on Saturday, December 3, from 6:00 PM – 11 PM. Click here for more details and to RSVP.

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¡Artistas, Arrested! : Last Week in Art [Cuba Edition]

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