By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Swenson
By David Villano
By Kyle Swenson
By John Thomason
By Michele Eve
The final chapter of the story is "Unbroken Ties: A New Reality," in which the artists explore their new lives even as they maintain connections with the old. It is in some ways the richest, most diverse section of the show. Some of the works touch on such things as the religious heritage of Cubans, which incorporates Catholicism but also Santería and other Afro-Cuban traditions. A bit of wall text comments on the oddity of a Cuban communist state that has never succeeded in rooting out and eliminating the fiercely held religious beliefs of its citizenry.
There's an especially poignant black-and-white photo by Marta María Pérez Bravo, La embarcación de su vida no se hunde (The Vessel of Her Life Does Not Sink) (1995), that shows a woman who seems to float on a sea of white bedsheet. Although she may have achieved buoyancy in her new life, she also remains bound to her past, as symbolized by her submissively bowed head and the four oars strapped to her outstretched arms.
A pair of photographs near the exhibition's end neatly — too neatly? — encapsulates the Cuban experience. In Kattia García Fayat's black-and-white Playing Dominoes (Jugando domino) (2001), several people sit around a table in Cuba, engaged in the title activity. Not far away, in Mario Algaze's Cibachrome Dominoes on 8th Street (Domino en la calle 8) (1983-87), five men do the same in Miami. So much has changed, these shots seem to confirm, even as so much stays the same.
What makes "Unbroken Ties" compelling, finally, is its struggle to make sense of a cultural phenomenon that remains unparalleled in modern history. A few days after the show's opening, Santis told me that, out of the dozens and dozens of exhibitions he has curated in his more than 30-year career, this is the one he expects he might be remembered by. I think he sells himself short. "Unbroken Ties" fulfills the promises posited by "Breaking Barriers" so that together they form a resonant continuum in which one is incomplete without the other.