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FRONTLINE/World Rough Cut
Castillo and Rodriguez in their art studio. The art market in Havana. Castillo and Rodriguez drive away in their vintage American car. Los Carpinteros installation: A sofa with gas stove rings on the seats.

Rough Cut
Cuba: The Art Revolution
Challenging Fidel's socialist system
 

 

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Length: 13:50

Natasha Del Toro

Natasha Del Toro worked as a freelance journalist for three years in Tampa Bay, Florida, prior to attending Columbia University's graduate school of journalism, from which she earned an M.A. in arts and cultural reporting and an M.A. in broadcast journalism. Del Toro just returned to Tampa to begin a nine-month fellowship as a multimedia reporter for the Tampa Tribune and WFLA News Channel 8.

This film has been edited slightly at the request of Los Carpinteros because of political safety issues in Cuba.

Cuba has a long and rich heritage in the arts, but during the last two decades, the visual arts have become a cultural phenomenon. In this week's Rough Cut, filmmaker Natasha Del Toro travels to Cuba to meet two of its most acclaimed artists as well as others who make a good living selling their art to tourists in Havana.

In a nation that prides itself on its government-sponsored public art education and thriving cultural centers, Del Toro discovered that art is at the center of Cuban society. "In the absence of a free press, the arts have become a space through which people can observe and debate the social issues of the day," says Del Toro.

Although Fidel Castro originally intended to use art to spread socialist ideals, the government loosened its censorship on art in the early 1990s, when Cuba's top artists began to leave the country. Cuba's art market really took off after Castro legalized the dollar and opened the island up to tourism in the mid-1990s.

New artists, such as Los Carpinteros (The Carpenters) -- the charismatic duo at the heart of Del Toro's film -- filled the void left by departing artists and began to create innovative sculptures, paintings and installations that cleverly critiqued the socialist system. Marco Castillo and Dagoberto Rodriguez, who make up Los Carpinteros, still live and work in Havana, but they have achieved tremendous success abroad.

You can find their work in the permanent collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art, and their pieces can fetch $50,000 or more at auction -- an astonishing sum for anyone living in Castro's Cuba. As Del Toro's film reveals, it has given the two men a status and lifestyle few other Cubans could imagine. Successful artists can earn far more than the average Cuban doctor or lawyer, creating an almost feverish will to succeed among Cuba's next generation of artists.

For their part, Los Carpinteros never dreamed their work would sell for such high amounts. "The first time someone asked us how much our artwork cost, we didn't know what to respond," Rodriguez says. "We didn't have a price because we didn't even know someone could buy something like that."

The fact that Cuba has been notably off limits to Americans for so long has only fueled the success of Cuba's art market. "Cuban art has been in such high demand because it's so hard to get," says Del Toro. "People from abroad want to buy this art because it's politically charged and exotic."

Los Carpinteros' latest exhibition toured several American cities earlier this year, but for the first time, Castillo and Rodriguez weren't given visas to travel with their show until the tour was well under way. Ironically, it wasn't the Cuban government who delayed their travel, but the U.S. government's tightening restrictions on Cubans visiting its shores.

Sonia Narang
Associate Interactive Producer

REACTIONS

Ron Ward - Waterloo, Ontario, CANADA
This video is a great taste of a country that many in the rest of the world (not Americans) have loved to visit since the 1960s. The US blockade has added character to the Cuban people and all their arts, including ingeniously restoring old cars. Incidentally, inexpensive Cuban doctors are a major export since free health care can't absorb all who qualify and want the job. First chance you get, try visiting Cuba for an unforgettable, mind opening, super vacation experience!

(anonymous)
Very interesting!

(anonymous)
I really enjoyed this segment. I would love to see more coverage of transition as it is occurring in Cuba.

Alex Sardi - los angeles, ca
Again, I want to make clear there is neither socialism nor revolution in Cuba. Those are words meant to mislead people and hide the true nature of Castro's dictatorship.

Dayton, Ohio
This well done article is another example that Cuba is a beautiful place. Cuba has wonderful resources such as oil and clean pristine beaches. Young people of Cuba have to be careful about wanting freedom with the US. It is not too hard to envision that US big companies would want to engulf their country. Some Cubans would enjoy more freedom and money, but many would find themselves worse off, working for very low wages for the new US companies. Cubans would see their beaches covered with with large hotels owned by Americans. Someone would have to oversee the big oil companies so they don't pollute their soil and water. Large US companies are greedy, and they treat people only as good as they have to. In time, your medical freedom would be gone also. There really is a reason: Castro stayed away from the US.

Roxanne Ashe - Hillsboro, ohio
I think Cuba is a beautiful place and I think people give it a bad name in some places in the world.

Phillip Harris - Tampa, Fl
I've always loved the ambiguity and humor of that powdercoated metal couch with the gas burners for seat cushions (see pic at the top of this webpage, right). So clever. I've seen it in person at CAM, USF and I just cracked up. The workmanship and perfection in production of the whole show was astounding. phillipharrisaudio.com

(anonymous)
Art schools and cultural centers for the masses!? People sometimes confuse Cuba with the Havana, and make very general statements about Cuba using the Havana's experience which has been extremely different to the other provinces of the interior of the country since 1959. It has been so different that actually the Havana is experiencing dramatic problems regarding its overpopulated area - a lot of Cubans from the interior looking for a chance for some improvement in that city.Interesting selection from an inexperienced young reporter, in the prestigious PBS's Frontline.Yes, you are right, the prohibited has its enchantment...unfortunately.

Subha De - Vadodara, Gujarat,India
Enjoyed your honest reportage. This can happen anywhere, between countries, within a country. It is important to work together and keep the channel of communication open.

Atlanta, GA
Excellent piece, would love to see more on the topic.

Tyrell Powell - Altoona, FL
I think that the movie is very educational and that in my point of view what happened was not really experienced enough that it could cause a major distraction. But this is my point of view; thanks for listening.

Neil Cosentino - Tampa, FL
We met recently but there was not enough time to talk about the film. I have been to Cuba - one of my objectives was to visit with the Film industry people - which I did.
I am a friend of Jason and would like to invite you for lunch to know more about you and your work and to discuss my project...

Pallavi Shrivastava - Tempe, AZ
Art and culture have been a social representation for many social movements. Although most learned artists of Cuban origin rejected home academies and got trained in Europe. After their return they represented humble rural Cuba as against independent developing nation. Point to consider.

Norman Pearlmutter - Bellport, New York
It is not the Cuban government that is preventing the interchange of ideas between us and the Cuban people. It is our government that won't even let these artists come here with their works, and allow any exchange of ideas. Thank you for using media to bring us los Carpinteros, and please produce more films on these and similar topics until our government "sees the light" and opens the doors to a full exchange of ideas between all people.

Aliva Mot - Los Angeles, CA
Fantastic show! I would liked to have seen more about the Cuban artist exile in Mexico city during the 80's and 90's. Is it still present there today? I almost moved to Mexico City back then to work with a group of Cuban musicians/sculptors.

Mamun Ramirez - Ponce, Puerto Rico
Hooray for you, Nata! You are an artist with your work. Through that interesting film you lead one to imagine the poor quality of life Cubans are obliged to live. Isn't Democracy great? Congratulations!

tampa, florida
This was an excellent piece, but I felt that it didn't show enough of the extreme poverty and suffering in Cuba or a critique of what "socialism" does to a country and how having a free market has actually benefited a portion of the country. Yes, these artists are doing very interesting work, and they are working to break down barriers and create a conversation. Essentially, however, their art is opportunistic and benefits them first and foremost; do they donate any of their funds or do they have any kind of system for helping younger artists reach an international platform? But all a great piece; one that brings forth many questions.

Teresa Navarro - Tampa, Florida
Excelente. En Natasha Del Toro vemos el nacimiento de una de nuestras nueva generacion de reporteras latinas. Te deseo mucha suerte.

- New York, NY
It is great to see a documentary that actually goes to Cuba to look at how these artists are living and how Cuba's relation to the U.S. and others is impacting them.

(anonymous)
Your piece is fantastic. Cuban art is a fascinating topic and your storytelling abilities really captivate the viewer. It is a shame that politics currently prevent Los Carpinteros from touring the US with their artwork.

Walter Pineda - Los Angeles, California
Hi! I could not help but notice the scattered comments made by the piece that pretty much served to criticize the government. I think this an issue that cannot escape any reporter or commentary. However, I remain baffled about such criticism being authentic in its purpose given that such art is the result of the revolution. And if it's not the direct result of the revolution, is it a consequence of the censoring hand of the political system created by the revolution? Further, would such art be more valuable or stand a chance of being more appreciated in a "free" environment similar to that in the United States? By any standard, I really enjoyed it because it raised such queries in me. Thanks!

Sara Scher - Tampa, FL
A great piece! So interesting and great to see Graphic Studio make the headlines like that. It was so informative. It is also great to hear of a place that respects the arts so much. That is a notch in their cap. I look forward to the day that we will be a country of people who are free to travel where we wish and be able to travel to Cuba again and see the artists in their native land.

Jossira Maldonado - Raleigh, NC
Great documentary on Cuban art. It was very interesting and informative!

Sanibel, FL
I have purchased one of their [the Carpenters] pieces though Graphicstudio, USF in Tampa. I find their work witty, beautifully executed and satirical. I love their work.

(anonymous)
Phenomenal piece of reporting...beautifully done, and most interesting.

Pradeep Sharma - Mumbai, India
Cubans are lucky that their government and filmmakers like you are promoting all varieties of Art in Cuba. This effort will leave a unique footprint of cultural richness in world history.

(anonymous)
Absolutely awesome report.

anna sandoval - tampa, fl
Well done. Succinct and yet colorfully describing a reality which not many might be aware of. Cultural aspects of a country speak more than words.

gisela yates - tampa, florida
Very insightful piece! It makes you wonder why if the embargo has been in place for that many years and obviously it has not worked,why not give it up? I really like the Carpintero's art ,I hope they bring their art back to Tampa.

Maura Barrios - Tampa, Florida
Nice work Natasha! And thanks for mentioning Tampa and including Noel. Too bad about the title -- I'd like to see, just once, an American journalist/writer avoid that nonsense about "challenging Fidel's socialist system." The socialist system does not belong to Fidel; it belongs to all Cubans, even the Carpinteros.

jan rieger - santa monica, ca
How refreshing it was to watch this story and see that art and culture were at the heart of the action and not violence and conflict. Cuba may have a checkered history with Castro's oppressive rule, but a society that supports the arts and nurtures so much young talent is setting a far better example than many supposedly "freer" nations around the world. I applaud Natasha Del Toro for bringing us the story of Los Carpinteros and their thought provoking work.

Neil Cosentino - Tampa, FL
Thank you for the article. I would like to co-produce and/or co-direct a feature film about Cuba and look forward to more articles about movie making in Cuba....

Tampa, Florida
Excellent piece!.I only wish it would have been longer than. It left me wanting to see more.