The recurring image of a pierced heart in a gallery at the NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale is almost certainly coincidental. But former Miami Herald art critic Helen Kohen says for this exhibit, titled "The Miami Generation: Revisited," the motif is fitting.
"It’s an enormously strong symbol of a huge change in your life and a huge switch-over,” says Kohen. “To lose their native land. To be an exile."
Mario Bencomo, Pablo Cano and Maria Brito were among nine Cuban artists who became known as the "The Miami Generation” after the exhibit of the same name in 1983. Three decades later, all six of the living artists are back for the new show.
At the Museum of Art, 60-year-old Bencomo stands in front of one of his paintings, an abstract work named for Saint Teresa of Avila. The 16th-Century nun is best known for her claim of having been pierced through the heart by an angel's arrow.
“Here, the saint is becoming undone,” says Bencomo. “You see the crown of thorns coming in different places. And she becomes almost like a jellyfish.”
Just a few feet away, Saint Teresa appears with greater clarity in a mural by Pablo Cano. In Cano's painting, two other figures represent a female Saint Sebastian, her body bound with rope. Both the nude forms are speared with arrows.
"Cuba is the lady that's tied up,” says Cano, 51. “She has all these wounds, but still very much alive."
Across the gallery, 66-year-old Maria Brito is showing her mixed media work titled "Self-Portrait." The piece depicts a flaming wheelchair with a battered, forlorn metal pot on the seat. A serpentine string of thorny wire runs from the pot through the very core of the sculpture.
"Notice that there's no means of identifying the gender,” says Brito. “So it could be basically anyone going through a difficult, transformative time in their lives."
Curator Jorge Santis decided "The Miami Generation: Revisited" would be his last exhibit before retiring. Like many of the artists, 67-year-old Santis was forced to leave Cuba as a teenager and pursue the rest of his art education in the United States. He says one of the common threads running through both the original and new exhibits is an irrepressible longing for one's homeland.
"I have always felt that no matter what the Cubans do, it always comes out a little melancholic," he says.
Much has changed since the original show debuted at the now-defunct Cuban Museum of Arts and Culture 31 years ago. Three of the original nine artists died of AIDS. And Miami has grown from a perceived cultural desert to a global arts destination. Helen Kohen is among those who believe the first "Miami Generation" show played a huge role in that transformation.
“Those of us in the art community were aware that it was landmark from the day it started," says Kohen.
When asked to define the "The Miami Generation" Cano recalls the words of the late Giulio Blanc, curator of the original show.
"We are Cuban. We are American. And something more."
IF YOU GO:
"The Miami Generation: Revisited" runs at the Nova Southeastern University Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale through September 21.
NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale.
For more information, please visit www.moafl.org