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Amends art in architecture

Cuban-born artist Carlos Garaicoa calls people of all cultures to examine the deeper meanings behind urban architecture with miniatures, photographs and other media in his exhibition, “La enmienda que hay en mi” (Making Amends).

The exhibition opened Aug. 23 at USF’s Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) and will run through Dec. 11.

A dark hallway in the back of the gallery displays small works entitled “Las joyas de la corona” (The Crown Jewels). Though crafted from cast silver, these pieces aren’t pendants or bracelets, but rather miniature replicas of famous structures from around the world.

“Las joyas de la corona” depicts different buildings with histories of violence or oppression – such as Guantanamo Naval Base and the German Stasi.

Corina Matamoros, who is the curator of Contemporary Cuban Art at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, offered her interpretation in a colloquium held in the Marshall Student Center on Friday morning.

“It seems to ask us which symbol of surveillance, aberration or tyranny we would take home for the value of the silver,” Matamoros said at the event. “How far are we willing to involve ourselves in the intricacy of power?”

Garaicoa’s other works display what he said is considered utopian or “nave” architecture. His style involves taking the average building or scaffolding found in his native city of Havana and laying down the artistic blueprints of grandiose monuments over the original image.

His work has been featured in public and private collections around the world including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

“A lot of people bring this word to me – ‘utopia,’ but I’m not talking about utopia,” Garaicoa said. “I am talking about reality. (Architecture) gives me a necessity to be attached to reality and to follow a set of rules and to not be so free.”

USF Assistant Professor of Architecture Mark Weston said that one could also note an architect’s perspective on Garaicoa’s artwork.

“It’s not always such a privilege to be an architect,” Weston said. “Someone would come up to me and say ‘build this,’ whereas someone would come to Carlos and say ‘build something.'”

Much of his work involves his own installation of words and phrases into scenes from Havana. Billboards and neon signs added to the images represent the suppressed voices of the Cuban people.

Lianet Vazquez, a junior majoring in biology and a Havana-born student, said she recognized many of the locations from her own hometown. Vazquez is a member of the USF Cuban American Students Association and said she appreciated Garaicoa’s native touches in his creations.

“When you bring an artist out, you can get a picture of the reality of the island,” Vazquez said.

Vazquez – who hasn’t visited her home in five years – said she holds the artwork very dear to her because of her hopes for change on the island.

“I think it’s a very revolutionary thing to have these works set in Cuba because when I lived there, I would have never seen anything like that,” Vazquez said.

After the colloquium, Garaicoa walked through the exhibit with a few friends, briefly discussing each piece. He fielded compliments from visitors of the gallery, accepted photo requests and answered questions about the art on display.

Amidst the scenes from Cuba hanging around the room were several dozen red cardboard sheets with different 3-D structures erected from them.

This work, called “Bend City (Red)” might have made connections to red as the color of communism, the Cuban flag or even “a city built from blood,” as one visitor thought. Yet, Garaicoa said the meaning was much simpler.

“I really just wanted to show the infinite shapes you could make from a single sheet of paper,” he said. “The red was inspired by China, where I started the project.”

Garaicoa said he hopes to bring his artistic skills to the realm of real architecture by designing a public library in Castleford, England. The artist said that this is a dream come true, but he still does not want to be foremost considered an architect.

“My commitment is to art; to form and to society,” Garaicoa said. “The building is not because I want to build – I want to build there, an idea.”