CREATIVE FUSION OUTCOMES: Keeping Lines of Communication Open with Embargo

The Cleveland Print Room—never an organization to squander opportunity or let potential lay fallow—has kept in touch with artists who visited through the Cleveland Foundation’s Creative Fusion program. The result for director Shari Wilkins and her staff is an ongoing international dialog. For Cleveland art audiences it results in a new exhibit in fall 2018, bringing together artists and works from around the globe to speak to the challenges often posed by international borders, and about the struggles that are sometimes the reason for restricted communication or travel in the first place. By its existence, the show promises to demonstrate the triumph of humanity (and the need to communicate) over arbitrary, artificial divisions.

Embargo will feature four artists whose work speaks beautifully about subjects that make up hard news—wars, restricted travel and commerce, violence: the kind of news that occasionally has difficulty crossing at the border. Sometimes art finds a way to communicate or bridge the gap from one nation to another. Sometimes, though, it goes the other way. In some of the nations represented in the show there is no actual embargo in place, but the power of images to communicate about what are for governments sensitive subjects occasionally leads to extra scrutiny and even restrictions. The artists are Alexey Furman (Ukraine), Pablo Serra Marino (Chile), Sandra Ramos (Cuba) and Bolivian-born Pilar Rubí (Cuba).

Sandra Ramos and Pilar Rubí both were part of the same Creative Fusion cohort in 2017. Ramos’s work includes printmaking, video, and other techniques. Rubí is primarily a photographer, and she collaborated with Cleveland-based photographer Greg Martin on a wet plate collodion project in Cleveland and Havana. Pablo Serra Merino’s Creative Fusion residency was in 2014. His work includes drawing and painting, sometimes using photography as source material.

“When Sandra and Pilar were here last year, the intent was that they return for a month to create new work,” Wilkins says. “But scheduling prohibited that. Adding Pablo to the mix for an exhibit was always our intent for that show. We have kept in contact,” even as the challenge of scheduling caused a delay. Serra Merino will be in Cleveland for a month-long residency in conjunction with the exhibit.

While they dealt with scheduling challenges, Wilkins was introduced to works of Ukrainian photographer Alexey Furman—not through Creative Fusion, but by Rochester-based, found-photo collector Nigel Maister, who had works in a show with Melinda Placko at the Print Room last summer. Furman is a photojournalist whose work includes documenting the war in Ukraine for various international outlets including Time, National Geographic, and the New York Times. His photos look like paintings, Wilkins says. His subject matter fit the international show well.

The works the artists will exhibit are not yet entirely known, partly because of the challenge of communication in places with controlled or otherwise limited internet access. These works will relate to challenges at hand in each country. Furman will exhibit five images, for example, documenting the war in Ukraine. Because it can be a challenge to move art in and out of Cuba, it is likely that Sandra Ramos will exhibit video, which can be transported on a flash drive (or, if she happens to be in Miami, via cloud transfer). The medium itself, then, becomes a commentary on the idea of an embargo. Serra Merino will make new drawings in his Ancien Regime series, which consists of photorealistic oil paintings of homemade arms produced in Chilean jails and Latin American prison facilities.

“This is not a statement about our country’s politics or other countries’ politics, but it is basically about the idea of embargo as a barrier, a hindrance,” Wilkins says.

Embargo opens September 14 and continues through November 10 at the Cleveland Print Room. Admission is free.