Does art thrive more in hardship and isolation? “Alumbrones,” a new documentary about artists in Cuba, really makes you wonder.
Filmmaker Bruce Donnelly profiles a dozen artists who create with largely the materials they can find, not buy, and without Internet access. The result is a vibrant community of artists whose expressions are bursting out of them.
The artists themselves even recognize that their poverty might feed their creations. One of them believes that if he had money in his pocket to spend, he might never have painted at all. Another describes how working with natural elements helped to expand his imagination.
One artist in a group that calls itself “The Motley Crew” says, “We’re surviving. It’s complicated. How do we do it? I don’t even know.” Another says, “Some days, you wake up and the fridge is dressed only in white like a Santero priest.” They have no income or electricity, and they emphasize that their objective is simply to paint.
A female artist who didn’t start until her 30’s says that she bought art books with the few sales of her work and studied other international artists in that way. Despite the problems, the film shows that art is a big part of Cuban culture and that the artists are appreciated, even if making a living in the field is tough.
The quality of the work varies greatly, but some of it is quite exciting. Interspersed between interviews of each individual talking about his/her process and the politics of being an artist in an economically depressed country, as well as footage of them while working, we see general images of Cuba that provide a real feeling for the place. Plus, the soundtrack consists of great Cuban music.
I have an inexplicable fascination with the country, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. As Americans, perhaps many of us are curious exactly because we haven’t been allowed to visit the place. My friends who have been there, however, absolutely loved it, and so do the artists profiled in the film.
They express their love of country through their work, and allowing themselves to be deterred by lack of money doesn’t even seem to be a concept. One of the artists says, “Here in Cuba, it’s quite simple. Just go out with paper and pencil, and just draw what’s happening.”
“Alumbrones” is a film that provides a glimpse into a world within Cuba that makes the country all the more intriguing.
The documentary opens on September 12, 2014 at Quad Cinema in New York City. Watch for it in a theater or on VOD in your area.