A man looks at art by Mario Sanchez, a deceased Florida artist of Cuban descent, inside the Bellas Artes museum in Havana, Cuba, late Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. The show, titled "Una Raza" or "One Race," is part of an exchange between Havana and Key West under which several prominent Cuban artists will exhibit on the Florida island next month. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)
HAVANA (AP) – Thirty woodcuts by the late Mario Sanchez are on display in Havana, the first exhibition of an American artist of Cuban descent to be featured in the Caribbean country's flagship National Museum of Fine Arts.
"One Race," which opened Friday, is part of an exchange between Havana and Key West under which several prominent Cuban artists will exhibit on the Florida island next month.
"This exhibit is about the human race: old, young, black and white, all genders, all sexes," curator Nance Frank told The Associated Press. "It's about equality. People working together and playing together and having fun together."
Sanchez, born in 1908, was the descendent of a Cuban family that came to Key West in the 19th century as part of a community of emigres who backed the island's independence movement. He died in 2005.
Those early immigrants' traditions heavily influenced Sanchez, Frank said. The colorful painted woodcuts on display in Havana through March 23 show men dancing and workers rolling tobacco as well as neighbors chatting and strolling through early 20th-century Key West. One work also shows the Key West home where Ernest Hemingway lived for a time.
"It is a vision of the Cubans who lived on the other side of the Straits. Key West had a large Cuban population," said Moraima Clavijo, director of the museum.
Clavijo added that news accounts from the time indicate Sanchez exhibited on the island in the 1950s but, today, "he is an artist entirely unfamiliar to us."
Exhibits by U.S. artists are rare in Cuba, but in 2009 a collective show from New York titled "Chelsea Visits Havana" came to the Caribbean capital.
Organizers said Sanchez's work embodies the historical ties between two nations, before Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution sharply divided the community.
"We had to cross this enormous 90-mile divide which is so much wider than it should be," said David Goode, one of the private collectors who contributed to the exposition. "I hope this is one way that art can continue its historical tradition of bringing people together."
About a dozen Cubans will make up the second part of the exchange in Florida in February including Manuel Mendive, Roberto Fabelo, Rocio García, Sandra Ramos and several young artists.
"New paths need to be opened, and art is a phenomenon that can do so," said Reynerio Tamayo, whose work is to go on display in the former Hemingway home.