Cuba is like a giant Ping-Pong, caught in the cross hairs of United States foreign policy. One minute President Obama is relaxing restrictions, making it easier for tourists in the United States to visit the tiny island. Blink, and President Trump is rolling back some of the administration’s changes. Another blink, and the state department is advising Americans not to travel to Cuba after mysterious medical attacks on diplomats at the American Embassy in Havana.
With its politics in flux, Cuba may be more fascinating than ever for Americans already intrigued by its music, culture and art. The interest is evident from the number of Cuba-themed museum shows and exhibits around the United States, many of which have been held in tandem with Havana-based institutions.
Earlier this year, an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York was developed with members of the Cuban National Museum of Natural History, while another at the Bronx Museum was organized with curators from El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, in Havana.
El Museo del Barrio in New York has a retrospective through Nov. 5 of Belkis Ayón, the late Cuban visual artist who was first on view at the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles.
Olga Viso, executive director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, attributed some of the heightened interest to the Obama administration policies, which made travel to the island easier. Fidel Castro’s death last November was also a factor for people who had boycotted the island during his regime.
“For many years from the ’50s to late ’80s, Cuba was a cultural center in Latin America,” said Iliana Cepero, professor of Latin American art and Cuban Culture at New York University and the New School. “This relationship has been so tense for so many decades. Cubans have been waiting for this moment for all these years.”
Both Ms. Viso and Ms. Cepero have curated Cuban-themed exhibitions. Ms. Viso was a developer of the Walker’s “Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950,” which focuses on artists who remained in Cuba after the revolution, and opens on Nov. 11. Ms. Cepero created “CubaIs” at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, which runs through March 4.
The images in that show capture rarely seen communities in Cuba, “from the Cuban ‘1 percent’ — the incredibly rich living in ritzy enclaves hidden away from the population — and the underground world of the punk kids known as ‘frikis,’ ” Wallis Annenberg, the president, chairman, and chief executive of the Annenberg Foundation, said in an email. “We aimed to capture Cuba at this critical moment, when the island nation is on the cusp of great change.”
Ms. Annenberg commissioned Cuban photographers like Raúl Cañibano and Leysis Quesada Vera, and the political prisoner Geandy Pavón, along with American photographers who have a history of shooting in Cuba, to “show us what Cuba is like today, outside of the retro cars and cigars that portray a romanticized version of the island in U.S. culture,” she said. The show also features portraits of well-known Cuban performers like Celia Cruz and Gloria Estefan, fashion designers Narciso Rodriguez and Isabel Toledo, and the actor Andy Garcia.
One of the main goals of the show is to present Cuba in all of its contradictions, “a very layered Cuba of today,” said Ms. Cepero, who grew up in Cuba and left in 2006. She added that the island can be difficult to grasp, especially for tourists. On the one hand, it is filled with entrepreneurship, music and warm, vibrant people. On the other hand, racism, prostitution and political unrest are rampant, she said.
The real estate developer Jorge M. Pérez donated over 170 works drawings, photographs, mixed-media and sculptures to the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), one of the largest collections of contemporary Cuban art in an American museum.
For him, the three-part show, “On the Horizon: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection,” is deeply personal. The Argentine-born son of Cuban parents, Mr. Perez grew up on the island as a child and fell in love with the art. “I don’t think there is a country that per capita produces more great art than Cuba,” he said. He attributes that to the Instituto Superior de Arte, the government-sponsored school for artists.
“The education is rigorous, and only the best get selected to go there,” he said. “They produce just amazing artists — there’s a continuation of this great artists that are coming from Cuba.”