CAFÉ XII: The Journeys of Writers and Artists of the Cuban Diaspora

28 May-10 September 2011   
Sangre de Cristo Arts Center: White Gallery
In memory of Antonio Benítez-Rojo and Irena Majchrzak

Guest Artist: Albert Chong

Curators: Leandro Soto, Andrea O'Reilly Herrera, and Grisel Pujalá

Salinas, Hai with Penca
**A symposium marking the closing of CAFÉ XII will take place at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in the Jackson Conference Center on 10 September 2011, from 12 pm to 5 pm. It will include a performance from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. by Leandro Soto, panels that feature all of the curators and several prominent  Cuban art historians, and a number of the Cafeteros.  A reception, featuring the music of Cafetero Victor Caldee and his ensemble Cuban Connection, will take place from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. preceding Leandro Soto's performance.

**For a full-length discussion of CAFÉ, see Cuban Artists Across the Diaspora; Setting the Tent Against the House. or see

        Unconventional in every respect, CAFÉ primarily features alternating, multigenerational groups of Cuban diasporic artists conceived or born on or off the island. However, a number of Cafeteros continue to reside on the island; their work touches on the theme of insilio or inner exile, the counterpart of the political exile experience. 

The Origins of CAFÉ: The idea for the exhibit was first inspired during a conversation among Cuban artists Leandro Soto, Yovani Bauta, and Israel León Viera in Mérida's central plaza (Yucatán, Mexico). As they sipped café (coffee) prepared "the Cuban way," the three men began to reminisce about their lives in Cuba and the friends and family they had left behind. They spoke about the manner in which they had managed to preserve their Cuban artistic identities in exile, and marveled over the idea that they were reuniting in a geographical place that resembled the island but was also distinctively foreign. 
Tejuca, Contenido
Suddenly it occurred to Leandro Soto that the café they were drinking was the emotional stimulus for their conversation. "I realized at that moment," Soto recalls, "that the café Cubano served as a poetic metaphor for a fundamental component of Cuban identity," regardless of where it is prepared and consumed. It is "an allegory for a social ritual that sustains itself even in exile...the act of preparing café represents a cultural practice that enables Cubans--across generations--to preserve and perpetuate their cultural identities." And thus, the three artists conceived the idea for CAFÉ and began planning its first manifestation, which opened in 2011.

Leandro Soto
Leandro Soto has acted as the principal curator of CAFÉ since its inception, and his wife, Grisel Pujalá (currently a professor at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados), has served as its director. Beginning with CAFÉ VI, Soto began including non-Cuban, local guest artists, suggesting the manner in which the Cuban artist roots her/himself wherever s/he is located, as well as the way in which the art of the Cafeteros resonates with that of other artistic traditions and with the work of artists from other cultures and backgrounds. Although some Cafeteros continue to work with café as a central concept, especially as it relates to dislocation and cultural continuity, the thematic focus of CAFÉ has expanded well beyond this metaphor. Above all else, the Cafeteros' creative expression testifies to the idea that a long tradition of Cuban visual art continues to evolve, and is indeed flourishing off the island. All of the participating artists have been visibly influenced by the new physical and cultural contexts in which they are working. 

By nature of its heterogeneous composition and its focus on movement and transition, CAFÉ ultimately offers a more complex understanding of what constitutes a nation and culture. 
Bedia, Untitled

CAFÉ, Leandro Soto observes, is "an exploration of the manner in which cultural contexts that influence an artist change, and consequently define and transform the artwork of the artist into diaspora, especially in an age in which no hegemonic discourse serves as a model...It's not just about my work, which does not remain fixed in any given cultural discourse or aesthetic, it's about Cuban artists like myself who are displaced from their original context."