‘Queloides’: Artists Explore Racism in Cuba

An exhibit shows how art provides one of the few outlets in Cuba for exploring race and the keloid scars left by racism.

'In the Reign of Freedom and Necessity' by Pedro Alvarez
'In the Reign of Freedom and Necessity' by Pedro Alvarez

Despite the social transformations implemented by the Cuban revolutionary government since the early 1960s, racism continues to be a deep wound in Cuban society, one that generates countless social and cultural scars. Racist attitudes, ideas and behaviors have gained strength in Cuban society during the last two decades, during the deep economic crisis known as “the Special Period,” which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. As the Cuban economy became dollarized, and competition for scarce jobs and resources intensified, racial discrimination and racial inequality increased. White Cubans began to use racist arguments to deny blacks access to the most attractive sectors of the economy (such as tourism), those in which it was possible to earn dollars or other hard currencies.

Out of that atmosphere came “Queloides,” an art exhibit examining the persistence of racism and racial discrimination in contemporary Cuba. Curated by Elio Rodríguez Valdés and me, the show is a collaborative project between the Mattress Factory museum and the Center for Latin American Studies, University of Pittsburgh. In the video below, I walk you through the show in its current incarnation at the 8th Floor gallery in New York City.

“Queloides” is the emphatic protest of a group of visual artists against the resurgence of racism on the island. It is the statement of a generation of artists who grew up and were educated in an environment that was, to no small degree, racially egalitarian until it deteriorated dramatically in the 1990s. This is the first time in postrevolutionary Cuba that the word “racism” has appeared in the title of an exhibition.