Out & About: ArtisTree Hosts Cuban Cultural Festival


South Pomfret — Two dynamic, Miami-based artists will discuss the influence of their Cuban heritage on their work this Saturday during a Cuban Cultural Festival hosted by ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret.

The family-friendly event begins at 10:30 a.m. While it is free, donations will be accepted at the door.

“I’m really excited because it’s a beautiful community and there are a lot of people who are interested in the arts,” said Laura Mazon, a classical guitarist who grew up in Cuba and moved to the U.S. to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Miami. “To give the Cuban experience to people in Vermont can be really meaningful.”

Mazon started playing classical guitar when she was 10 years old.

“It’s not something that everybody knows about,” she said of the instrument. The Spanish introduced the classical guitar to Cuba in the 1600s.

“Cuba has given the world the most extraordinary composers and players of the instrument,” Mazon said. “I’m so much looking forward to enlightening people about all of these things and also engaging the community and reaching new audiences with this music.”

Prior to performing a concert at 7:30 p.m., Mazon will also give a talk at 10:30 a.m.

Mazon will be joined by Xavier Cortada, whose work is currently on display in ArtisTree’s gallery. Cortada’s parents both moved to the U.S. in 1962 when they were 21. His mother moved with his grandmother, leaving his grandfather behind in Cuba. His father and his uncle were later able to move to the U.S.

“They lost their country and had to rebuild a new in the United States,” Cortada said. “There’s a lot in my heart that resonates with the people of Cuba and the tragedy that befalls them to this day.”

Cortada has an exhibit with three different parts on display at ArtisTree, all of which deal with the environment and climate change. Cortada was born shortly after the Cuban missile crisis and sees the parallels between that time period and today.

“The issue of our time, what consumed our entire world, was the earth’s destruction by nuclear forces,” he said. Today, “again it’s human-made things. But this time it’s pollution. It’s the impact on our environment.”

The first part of the exhibit is called “Epoch” and the artwork in it depicts how animals have evolved and become extinct over 500 million years. During a workshop from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday, Cortada will oversee the construction of 24 flags and place them on a hill.

“That’s going to showcase 24 animals that will probably not survive this century,” he said. He explained that, after the Cambrian explosion — which occurred more 540 million years ago and kicked off the development of life on earth — animals evolved to their changing environment. The 24 animals that will be displayed on the flags won’t have that amount of time to evolve.

“Here it’s abrupt,” Cortada said. “The lemur cannot evolve into some other animal. The polar bear cannot evolve into some other animal.”

The second part of the exhibit is titled “Water Paintings”. The pieces are based on data collected by scientists at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in North Woodstock, N.H. For the project, Cortada put pencil drawings and watercolor paper into nylon mesh, then left them there for 16 weeks. The project, which took place in 2016, emphasizes the importance of science.

“We all need to be informed by science,” Cortada said.

The third part is titled “Native Flags” and is a film about when Cortada went to the North Pole in 2008 and planted a green flag to reclaim the region for nature. Cortada’s work was in response to Russia’s planting of its flag in a seabed in the North Pole.

“That so disturbed me,” Cortada recalled. “I just thought that that was the absolute manifestation of the greed that got us into the problems we’re in.”

Then came the “Native Flags” project, in which Cortada started to encourage people to plant trees in urban areas. He made the comparison to New England, which has replanted its forests after previous centuries of logging.

“Although we may have fixed that problem here in New England,” he said, “there are many communities across the globe where you don’t have trees.”

At 4 p.m. on Saturday, Cortada will give a talk about his Cuban roots and its influence on his art.

“You would never wish upon your daughter the restrictions that the Castro regime imposes on every daughter of Cuba,” he said, noting that while Castro has since died, communism still is in Cuba. “If you’re part of a family in the military, you have everything. If you have opinions against the government, you have nothing.”

University of Miami professor Gary Wood, who also serves as the director of arts, presenting and live entertainment in the university’s Frost School of Music, was instrumental in bringing both Mazon and Cortada to ArtisTree. Both have an affiliation with the University of Miami.

“They were easy to sort of contact and great choices to come up and share their art,” Wood said. He and his family spend summers in Woodstock. “When I moved to Miami, it was really fascinating to see how Cuban culture and heritage were so alive in Miami,” Wood said.

He got to know artists who were greatly impacted by their Cuban heritage.

“They look at this land that is so far away and so close,” Wood said.

Last summer, his wife, classical pianist Sakiko Ohashi, performed during ArtisTree’s Japanese Cultural Festival. This year’s Cuban Cultural Festival is based on the same format.

“It’s just so neat how curious people are. They want to learn,” Wood said. “You don’t find that everywhere.”

Tayo Skarrow, marketing and communications director at ArtisTree, said that the response to last year’s festival encouraged the nonprofit organization to plan a similar one this year.

“I think it gives an inside look into what it means… to be a Cuban-American artist working in the U.S. and the challenges they have through that,” she said.

Editor’s note: For a complete schedule of the Cuban Cultural Festival, visit https://artistreevt.org/cuban-arts-festival-near-and-far-a-day-of-cuba.html. For more information about Mazon, visit www.lauramazon.com/, for more information about Cortada, visit www.cortada.com and for more information about Native Flags, visit nativeflags.org. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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