Understanding Diago


Understanding Juan Roberto Diago’s Achievement

A shortened version of the following was submitted as a letter to the Boston Globe:

I was struck by the recent article about the Juan Roberto Diago show at Harvard’s Cooper Galley, Cate McQuaid’s “Cuba sí, racism no!” (p. G2, April 7, 2017), first by the powerful graphic of Diago’s “Aquí Nadie Gana (Nobody Wins Here),” then by the article itself, its unfortuntate stereotypical anti-government slant on Diago’s work, an over-the-top one at that.

In seven short paragraphs, McQuaid manages to present Diago’s work as an attack against what looks like an on-going official denial of racism by a lying, hypocritical dictatorship rather than a patriotic and collaborative achievement of the Cuban people and the government’s efforts to combat racism. Cuba is presented as a land where “as late as 1997, President Fidel Castro said that in Cuba — a country that until 1886 had benefited from slavery — racial discrimination had been eradicated,” where Diago bravely “charts the career of an artist who decries racism in a country that has largely denied it exists,” not one where his grandfather and namesake has been honored, where the artist acquired his skills and training at San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts in Havana, where he has been honored by the country’s Young Communist League.

It’s far more to the point to look at the introduction to the showing on the (U.S.-based) AfroCubanweb.com that begins with a link to the coverage in the March issue of La Ventana AbiertaThe Open Window, the “Boletín” del Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes, the official/governmental National Museum of Fine Arts. There the official story begins with a note that the Ethelbert Cooper gallery “of the prestigious Harvard University” welcomes “for the first time in its history” 25 works covering “more than twenty years of a fruitful artistic career,” one that “visualizes aspects seemingly invisible in Cuba today, as is the continuation of marginalization of the black man and his struggle…”

The achievement of Diago’s work — “undoubtedly, its sustained emphasis on a concern about the present and the future of the black in a society like the Cuban which prides itself on the eradication of racial prejudice” — clarifies what is a goal and what is reality, “making clear the long road that remains for progress in terms of racial equality and opportunities for black men and women.” The exhibition of Juan Roberto Diago at Harvard is “an event to be celebrated with joy by all lovers of Cuban culture. His expressive strength and the dramaticism of his poetics, …the sincerity of a work that speaks openly about the racial contradictions in Cuba today. This is the significant contribution of an artist committed to building a better society.”

Ah, but could we learn and do the same for U.S.-Cuban relations.

— Peter Miller, Brookline, MA