Duncan Campbell , guardian.co.uk, 18.04. 2012

Two Cubans are exhibiting their art in Britain – despite being imprisoned in the US – in a groundbreaking new show

Two of the artists featured in a new exhibition will definitely not be present on the opening night. Instead of mingling with fellow artists in London’s West End, they will each be spending the time in a high-security cell in a penitentiary in the US.

The pair, Antonio Guerrero and Gerardo Hernández, are members of the so-called Miami Five, who were jailed in the US in 2001 at the conclusion of a controversial trial. The five were Cubans who had infiltrated militant anti-Castro exile groups in Florida that were suspected of carrying out sabotage attacks aimed at destabilising Cuba.

The men were sentenced in Miami to terms varying from 15 years to “double life” on the grounds that they were acting in the US as agents of a foreign power. Their defence was that they were seeking to disrupt terrorist attacks which, the Cuban government claims, have caused hundreds of deaths, most recently in a 90s bombing campaign in Havana hotels and clubs aimed at derailing the booming holiday industry.

Lawyers for the five argued unsuccessfully that a fair trial in the toxic anti-Castro atmosphere of Miami was impossible. In 2011, one of the five, René González, was released and remains on parole in Florida.

The art exhibition, entitled Beyond the Frame, which moves to Glasgow in May, will show the work of 26 of the best-known Cuban artists and of 20 other international artists who have donated work to draw attention to the case. It is the largest collection of Cuban artists ever to be shown in the UK.

“The art itself is very surprising,” says Dodie Weppler, an expert on Cuban art who is co-ordinating the exhibition. “There’s no socialist realism, it’s all things you might not expect. Culture has always been a vital element in Cuba’s radical tradition, but the revolution made possible a cultural experiment on a scale never before seen in the Americas.” A number of artists being exhibited – “Kcho“, Manuel Mendive, “Choco“, José Fuster, Juan Roberto Diago – already have international reputations.

Antonio Guerrero learned to draw and paint while in jail in Florence, Colorado, as the pupil of a cellmate, an African-American artist. He works in watercolours, charcoal, oil and pastel, his latest subjects being exotic birds and butterflies, and has written that, through art, “I have overcome imprisonment.” Hernández was an amateur cartoonist before his arrest; cartooning remains his speciality.

Art was originally seen as a key part of the Cuban revolution. There are still 14 art schools on the island and a university of the fine arts in Havana. According to Rene Duquesne of Cuba’s National Council of Visual Arts, there are 13,000 “registered artists” there. “With this number, there are simply not enough galleries or materials – most of the materials have to be imported,” he says. “The blockade causes enormous difficulties. Artists who don’t have a salary – who aren’t book designers, art teachers or other related jobs – have to rely on the sales of their work. This forces Cuban artists to look abroad.”

Full story HERE

Beyond the Frame – Contemporary Cuban Art is at Gallery 27, London W1, 23–28 April, and The Lighthouse, Glasgow, 7–13 May.