A collaboration between UNM’s Latin American and Iberian Institute with the Tamarind Gallery brought museum curator Omar Diaz Liria to Albuquerque from Cuba for a talk on the evolution and current state of Cuban art on Tuesday night.

Attendees packed a small gallery on the second floor of Tamarind; about 70 guests squeezed into the space, leaving some standing in the back. Diaz, who curates the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, started off his presentation by saying he wanted it to be an informal one.

“I don’t want this to be a conference, I want this to be a conversation with all my friends,” Diaz said.

Diaz began his discussion with a general overview of the different phases of art throughout Cuban history, presenting slides ranging from colonial examples to an era he referred to as the “dark ages,” to modern day contemporary sculptures, paintings and graphic art.

The generation of Cuban artists that studied in Paris where influenced by some of the greats, such as Picasso and Vincent van Gogh, while also bringing their own style into the mix, Diaz said.

“That generation of artists that are going to start painting in Havana are going to change things in Havana. Afro-Cubanism and social criticism will be the topics...with a touch of Cubanity,” Diaz said.

After a general sweep of prominent artists in Cuba and touching on aspects of modern art, Diaz’s lecture took a more serious turn when he discussed the state of Cuba as a whole in the last 1900s.

“The ‘70s are famous because the first five years of the ‘70s is considered the dark period. We could not export paintings to other countries because they where the treasures of the island, the real values of culture. So there were misconceptions of culture,” Diaz said.

Diaz said that Cubans – not only Cuban artists – have in general began to shift away from their past. Specifically, he said that Cuban artists are more capable of defending their points of view, and are also generally more educated.

Diaz said that modern artists in Cuba are very popular because the country has begun to incorporate teachings of their art in the school curriculum.

Lucas Zuniga, a junior liberal arts major, attended the discussion and said that he was surprised at how Diaz had to explain how Cuban culture has shifted.

“I thought it was a good retrospective. The thing that we took away immediately is how it was sad how apologetic he was. You don’t have to defend your intelligence,” Zuniga said. “The assumption that there are so many unintelligent Cubans out there, that they are not part of the world and not connected, I think is really sad that he had to perform that.”

Diana Gaston, director of the Tamarind Gallery, helped facilitate and organize the talk. Gaston said she thought that bringing Diaz to Tamarind gave helpful insight to those in attendance about a changing country.

“Omar Diaz Liria brought his first-hand experience of the shifting political climate in Cuba, which allows for an international exchange of contemporary art and ideas,” Gaston said.

Diaz said that the country, like its art, has come a long way over the last half-century. “We have changed our mentality, our way of thinking and how different we are today. We are not the same people of the ‘60s anymore,” Diaz said.

Nick Fojud is a student in the communication and journalism department.