In a Wynwood gallery’s exhibition of drawings framed by cake boxes and brushed on Clorox bottles, Miami artist Pablo Cano pays tribute to Cuba’s Ladies in White.
By Fabiola Santiago
To an arts district that finds more inspiration in New York than Havana comes the whimsical work of master puppeteer Pablo Cano: drawings framed by scalloped-edged cake boxes and brushed on plastic Clorox bottles — a tribute to the Ladies in White, the gladioli-carrying Damas de Blanco who peacefully march in Cuba in a silent quest for human rights.
Cano’s drawings, on exhibit at the Kelley Roy Gallery in Wynwood, depict the damas, often the target of pro-government mobs, as pious Byzantine figures who wear crowns and long flowing gowns.
One holds a scroll that reads “Liberty.” Another stands atop an upside down globe. A lone one drifts on a raft in the middle of the sea surrounded by sharks, a commanding galleon towering over her.
“Gothic Madonnas,” the artist calls his ladies.
The 50 ink drawings were made on telephone directory pages from Havana and Miami-Dade, white-washed by the artist with a light coat of primer. Some of the drawings were inked on pages from a 1958 Havana telephone directory where Cano found his family and friends listed. He bought the directory at a Little Havana souvenir shop. The drawings on Miami-Dade’s white pages reference the exile community; those that combine Havana and Miami directories symbolize solidarity across the Florida Straits with the Ladies in White.
Two drawings were made on white-primed Clorox containers turned by Cano into female bodies. Plastic champagne glasses were shaped into faces and crowns.
“I used my standard approach of working with found objects to create the Clorox bottles and to illustrate the Ladies in White in the drawings/college series,” says Cano, a performance artist, painter, sculptor, ceramist and puppeteer.
Cano is best known for exhibitions and theatrical productions featuring marionettes made from found objects that reference the giants of art history during Art Basel at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. Some marionettes from those shows also are on exhibit (a Warhol-inspired Campbell soup can with dancing feet, for example) as is a new commission by the gallery, Lady Gaga, brought to life as a giant white tea cup with Diet Coke cans for curls.
Gaga looks like she’s signing to the Ladies in White propped on the wall inside their cake boxes – “a poor man’s frame,” appropriate for these economic times, Cano says. Each cake-box drawing is priced at $300.
The number of drawings in the series symbolizes the 50 years of totalitarian rule since Cano was born on the island on March 11, 1961.
“The forever dictatorship,” the Little Havana-based artist calls the Castro brother’s regime.
Hosting the exhibition is the almost 3-year-old Kelley Roy Gallery, owned by husband and wife Susan Kelley and Bill Roy, who came to the area looking for office space for their formerly Coral Gables-based advertising agency.
When they found the space in a warehouse at 50 NE 29th St., Kelley quipped: “This is so big we could open an art gallery!”
And the couple did (the agency ended up at the back of the space), becoming active members of the Wynwood Arts District and now the newly created Miami Art Dealers Association. The group is spearheading changes such as turning the second Thursday of the month into “preview nights” to ensure the neighborhood remains a serious art destination for collectors rather than for the party crowds that flood the district on the second Saturdays art walk.
On Thursday, the 30 galleries that make up the association launched the first official 6 to 9 p.m. collective preview night, which some galleries had already been testing with success.
At first, Kelley said, she and her husband had doubts about hosting such an overtly political show – something that is oftentimes frowned upon by the contemporary art world.
“Are we going over the edge?” Kelley says they wondered. “Here we are, Anglos, and cannot possibly feel all the passion and the sentiment.”
Cano, who helped write the show’s promotional materials, began writing his artist statement bluntly: “With great pride and admiration I dedicate my new ‘cake box’ series of drawings to the courage and fight for freedom of The Ladies in White. These brave women risk their lives peacefully protesting the imprisonment of political dissidents in Cuba.”
The art dealers and the artist discussed the issues and risks, and Cano stood his ground that he wanted to honor women he believes “could well be a vehicle for peacefully bringing an end to the Castro regime and achieving democracy for Cuba.”
Kelley and Roy saw the merits.
“Pablo said, ‘This is the way it is,’ and we said, ‘We are with you.’ ”