Baracoa, the first settlement founded in Cuba in 1511, has long been a place where a magnificent culture has mixed with a beautiful terrain and a dedicated artistic community to create stunning and moving designs. The sculptures and paintings created by these individuals are nothing less than spectacular, but in the wake of several hurricanes and economic hardship it has been difficult to exhibit the art to the international community, let alone attain the needed materials to pursue aesthetic expression. Thus the mission of this website is not only to give the world a taste of the ingenuity and immense culture of Baracoa, but to encourage visitors to do what they can to aid the artists of Baracoa - to donate supplies, purchase art, and, if possible, visit, seeing the wonder of Baracoa, Cuba for themselves.
HISTORY OF BARACOA'S ART
There is a long tradition of artistic expression among the inhabitants of Baracoa, Cuba. Some of the earliest works, created by the Taino people, were first displayed on the walls of caves between 1200 and 1500. The Taino people were adept at the use of different natural materials including clay, wood, stone, bone and shell to produce objects which were both utilitarian as well as ceremonial.
The Baracoan artists of today are strikingly bold and spiritual. Their creativity flows from a strong indigenous heritage that still runs deep in their veins. The artists also are inspired by the artistic and cultural influences of the Spanish colonizers, Africans, and others who came to live in Baracoa.
The art of Baracoa is so stirring because its cultural backdrop is a complex woven tapestry experienced in the midst of great natural beauty: the rivers, mountains, ocean, and diverse flora and fauna. Baracoa is home to the anvil-shaped mountain El Yunque and other well recognized geographic features including, the Bay of Baracoa, and five major rivers: the Miel, Yumuri, Macaguanigua, Toa, and Duaba Rivers. Nearby is the Alejandro de Humbolt National Park, known for its biodiversity and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Nature predominates in Baracoan artwork: fish, birds, such as the Tocororo and the humming bird, polymita (tree snails), lizards, orchids, coconuts and cacao pods.
The considerable variety of artistic styles represented on this website reflects a great awareness of and appreciation for the cultural history of Cuba. For example, some Baracoan artists resurrect indigenous styles in their works or they might depict Afro-Cuban religious syncretism. Some pieces are very symbolic and express what is in the minds and hearts of the Cuban people of today. This website presents Barcoan art which is truly a feast for the eyes and nourishment for the soul.
Strong connections exist among the Baracoan artists who are all dedicated to fostering artistic expression in the community, and many have trained formally in Guantanamo and Havana. The modern movement began in the 1960s when an art collective was formed. In 1972, Luis Eliades established the Primero de Abril Salon in Baracoa. This exhibition introduced Baracoan art to other regions of Cuba, and eventually the artists were asked to participate in exhibitions as far away as St. Petersburg, Russia. The Baracoan Art Collective was strengthened by another event in 1976: the creation of the Casa de Cultura Municipal, a cultural center designed to house exhibitions of local artists and support the arts. It is common for artists in Baracoa to pass their creative passions on to their children and grandchildren with multiple generations of artists living in Baracoa. The artists also spend time teaching children in the community resulting in the preservation of traditional art techniques (see Additional Materials for video of traditional ceramic making).
Walking the streets of Baracoa, visitors can marvel at the wealth of apparent creativity: murals cover many exterior walls of the buildings in town, artists’ workshops have their windows and doors open to passersby. The artists breathe in the life of Baracoa and breath out wondrous creations shaped by their interpretations of their world, colored by the richness of their history and the legends, symbolism and spiritualism of their people. The Casa de Cultura plays the role of studio and meeting place where students learn and exchange ideas and group projects are planned. The artists of Baracoa are committed to teaching younger generations to creatively express themselves through art, ensuring a vibrant visual arts community.
Another milestone for the Baracoan Art Community was the formation of the Tibaracon Group on October 10, 1987. Tibaracon is the Taino word for that part of the coast where a sand bar separates the river from the sea. It represents a space of interdependencies and mutual interactions of natural elements and serves as a metaphor for this group of artists and their artistic perspectives. The Tiberacon Group immersed themselves in the wealth of cultural influences from the world of their Arawak-Hispanic-Afro-Franco-American-Caribbean forefathers. They brought their artistic process into the most rural of communities and fostered a love for the visual arts in the region (to watch video see link ). While the Group disbanded formally in 1995, the spirit with which it was formed remains vibrantly at play in what continues to be a dynamic multigenerational artistic community.
This website is born from one family’s experience and the promise made to the artists of Baracoa to bring their works into the light for the world to see. This is the story of how it all transpired.
A local gallery exhibited paintings by numerous Cuban artists from Baracoa. The beauty of the traditional art, the diverse styles as well as the availability of a book, The Painters’ Magic, which eloquently presents the works of the artists of the First City of Cuba, Baracoa (see Additional Information page for reference), led the family not only to purchase a painting but also to make a voyage to meet the artists and experience the culture.
The artists were very engaging, and when asked to collaborate on a painting for the family, did so enthusiastically, even changing their schedules to finish the work before the family’s departure. The authors of The Painters’ Magic, Elexis Navarro and Rosendo Suarez, were accessible and eager to facilitate communications and meetings with the artists. This website is a gift to the community of Baracoan artists. Of note is the fact that circumstances in Cuba greatly restrict mobility and this has resulted in a unique and rich art environment where multiple generations of artists all live in Baracoa.
The artists have limited art supplies and have to resort sometimes to the use of natural and alternative materials in place of paint and canvas. The safest way to ensure that the artists get the materials they need is for travelers to bring them in person to the painters. One U.S. organization, The St. Augustine-Baracoa Friendship Association, has been most effective in helping Baracoa particularly in the face of the frequent hurricanes which cause repeated, serious damage to the fragile structures that exist there, power outages and often limited access to food and water. We encourage you to use our links to gain further information including contacts for tour guides who are friends with the Artists of Baracoa and can arrange for tours of the area and purchase of their art work.
The curators of this site are excited to share with the world the presented materials which convey the natural beauty of Baracoa and the unique vision of its artists as reflected in their original paintings. The art which has for so long been a hidden treasure is now revealed for all to appreciate.