The Thomas Center Galleries debuts its new Main Gallery exhibit titled “82° W / Six Degrees of Separation,” spotlighting the work of eight Cuban artists as part of the city’s ongoing Bulla Cubana cultural celebration.
Here’s a geographic quirk that ties Gainesville with Havana, Cuba. Both cities are located along the same longitude: 82° West. In fact, as the seagull flies, Gainesville is 451 miles due north of the Cuban capital.
In terms of latitude, Gainesville is at 29.6° North, Havana at 23.1°. That’s a separation of 6 degrees.
Now it makes perfect sense why the newest exhibit at the Thomas Center Galleries, featuring the work of eight contemporary Cuban artists, is ingeniously titled 82°W / Six Degrees of Separation. Get it?
What’s even more impressive, however, is the artwork itself.
“The craftsmanship across the board is phenomenal!” said Anne Gilroy, who curated the exhibit along with Gabriela Azcuy.
The public is invited to an opening reception for the exhibit today from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the first-floor Main Gallery of the Historic Thomas Center, 302 NE 6th Ave.
Guest artists Lisandra Ramírez and Osmeivy Ortega, as well as Azcuy, will speak informally at 7 p.m. in the gallery space. The topic will be “Cuba Ahora — the Next Generation.” Meanwhile, guitarist Raymond Lohengrin will perform during the reception. Light refreshments will be served.
The exhibit is part of Bulla Cubana, a three-month, city-wide celebration showcasing the extraordinary talent of invited fine artists, muralists, dancers, musicians, chefs, photographers and filmmakers. The event continues through March and has already included an exhibition by Nancy Reyes Suarez at Oak Hall School’s Cofrin Gallery and a pop-up exhibit and woodcutting workshop by Ortega at Gallery Protocol on Northeast Sixth Street.
“The mission of Bulla Cubana is to facilitate cultural exchange,” said Russell Etling, Cultural Affairs Manager for the City of Gainesville. “Communities grow as they are exposed to a diverse set of cultural experiences.”
Bulla Cubana evolved from a fact-finding visit to Cuba last spring by Gilroy and four other Gainesville art enthusiasts: Margaret Ross Tolbert, Randy Batista, Betsy Bemis and Robert Ponzio. Over the course of a week, they met dozens of artists with the goal of exhibiting some of their work in Gainesville.
The 82°W / Six Degrees of Separation exhibit at the Thomas Center features the work of Adriana Arronte, Adrián Fernández, Marlys Fuego, Jorge Otero, Adislen Reyes and Gustavo Del Valle, as well as that of Ortega and Ramírez.
“I met these artists in Havana and I saw their work, but seeing it all together here, honestly, is extraordinary,” Gilroy said. “We worked on selecting not just the work that would exhibit well together but some work that was more accessible than others.”
Ortega, 36, is a printmaker who works with traditional techniques to produce anatomical and nature-inspired lithographs and other images. He said that Gainesville, surrounded by nature, is an ideal setting for his work.
“I love Gainesville; it’s a wonderful place for creating,” he said. “For me, it’s so important how the wildlife — the squirrels, the deer — is so close to the humans. It’s part of my inspiration.”
Ortega said he also enjoys the physical work of carving wood and working with wood to create his artwork. He also draws his inspiration from the ferns that grow abundantly in Cuba.
“My intention for people when they see my work is that they see something about Cuba,” he said. “It’s an amazing country with a lot of culture. We have amazing artists and intelligent people. I am proud to be Cuban.”
Batista, a Gainesville photographer and the project organizer for Bulla Cubana, is impressed by Ortega’s energy and talent.
“Osmeivy is very well known around the United States,” Batista said. “He’s definitely an up-and-coming, young contemporary artist. All of these artists are the cream of the crop, and their work will be collectible within 5-10 years.”
Batista himself has strong ties to Cuba. He said he was conceived there but born in the U.S. He returned to Cuba as a young boy in 1954 and stayed until 1961. In fact, his family was in Havana on Jan. 8, 1961, when Fidel Castro arrived following his long victory march.
Etling said the goal of Bulla Cubana is to help the Gainesville community better appreciate Cuban culture and art. The 82°W / Six Degrees of Separation exhibit has its own purpose.
“By featuring these eight artists from Havana, we are provided insight into their artistic point of view,” he said. “We hope our regional art community has had and will continue to have opportunities to provide the Cuban artists insight into Gainesville’s rich cultural community and its point of view.”
Gilroy couldn’t overlook the fact that the opening reception for the Thomas Center Galleries exhibit occurs on the day of the presidential inauguration.
“The arts are the voice of the people, under any administration,” she said. “I think it’s significant that we have [Cuban] artists whose voices have been somewhat restricted over many decades.
“So on Inauguration Day, when we are commemorating the peaceful transfer of power, it’s important to note that the arts are where we get our anthems, our symbols, our stories and our images. Supporting the arts is essential in any culture.”
— Noel Leroux
82°W / Six Degrees of Separation
Thomas Center Galleries
302 NE 6th Ave.
Gainesville, FL 32601
On exhibit through March 25
Gallery Hours: Monday through Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturdays 1-4 p.m. Free.
For further info, visit the Bella Cubana website.