To be cultured is the only way to be free" - José Martí
The major characteristic of Cuban culture is its combination of the African
and European. Slavery was not abolished until 1886 in Cuba, much later
than other Caribbean countries. Therefore black African traditions were
kept intact much later than elsewhere in the Caribbean. The evidence can
be heard in the music of Cuba. Music is everywhere, on the streets, in the
bars, coming from open windows. There are few countries in the world with
so rich a musical heritage as Cuba.
The Cuban Revolution had a profound effect on culture. From the beginning,
it sought to integrate culture as a popular expression of everyday life
echoed in the Cuban Constitution, defining culture as an inalienable right
of working people, who enjoy it from childhood. Soon after the triumph of
the Revolution, the Cuban government set up several cultural institutions,
the first one being the Institute of Cuban Cinema in March 1959 which,
through thick and thin, has hosted the Annual Latin American Film Festival
The first national art school was founded in the early 60's and in 1976 the
Escuela Superior de Arte was founded. These institutions gave people
access to the serious study of applied art compared to pre-revolutionary
days when art was the preserve of the elite. The arts can flourish in Cuba
because of the high budget allocation allotted to this sphere. However,
the schools and higher institutons of the arts in Cuba are suffering an
acute shortage of materials.
The Union of Artists and Writers in Cuba (UNEAC) was founded in 1961. It
has a membershop of 3751 and organises several important events during the
year. Among the aims of UNEAC is 'to strengthen the friendship,
co-operation and steady links with cultural institutions, universities,
foundations and organisations of artists all over the world, with the aim
to make it easier for our artists to establish direct contact with the
best values of universal culture'.
To this end a visit to Ireland was arranged through UNEAC, of Xonia Zayas,
a director of community arts television programmes in Havana. Xonia was
here in March and she attended the opening of the "Once is too Much"
exhibition in the Orchard Gallery in Derry. She also took part in an
intensive programme of visits and talks with community groups in Dublin,
Derry and Belfast. A return visit will take place this month when Rita
Fagan, co-ordinator of St Michael's Family Resource Centre, Inchicore,
Marion Keogh, an exhibitor in the "Unspoken Truths" exhibition and Bernie
Dwyer of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign Cultural Committee will go to Havana
to take part in a programme of cultural activities.
The value of these visits between Ireland and Cuba is enormous. Cuba has,
since the Revolution, seen culture as an intrinsic part of the whole
person. Ireland has had a struggle over many centuries to hold on to its
culture. In an era of globalisation, it is even more important to develop
ways and means of sharing and endorsing that which makes us unique.
We are happy to acknowledge that these events have been part funded by the
Cultural Section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and NCDE.
By Bernie Dywer
Zonia Zayas Aguero and Declan McGonagle (Director of Irish Museum of Modern
Art) opening "Once is Too Much" exhibition, Orchard Gallery, Derry, 6th