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Cuban art exhibit at Harn Museum connects Gainesville’s Hispanic community

Ashley Hays (left) and Julianna Mooney discuss an eccentric piece on display Friday, Sept. 14, 2023 at the Harn Museum of Art. “Each piece invokes a range of emotions,” Hays said. (Emily Sturge/WUFT News)
Ashley Hays (left) and Julianna Mooney discuss an eccentric piece on display Friday, Sept. 14, 2023 at the Harn Museum of Art. “Each piece invokes a range of emotions,” Hays said. (Emily Sturge/WUFT News)

More than 1,000 visitors visited the Harn Museum of Art’s exhibition of Cuban art to kick off Cuban Heritage Month. The exhibit visitors came to see allowed them to take a deep dive into the lives of the people who lived under an authoritarian regime and their journeys crossing the sea in hopes of finding freedom.

Through more than 70 works from 54 artists, "Under the Spell of the Palm Tree: The Rice Collection of Cuban Art" allowed some attendees, such as Julianna Mooney, a University of Florida freshman and second-generation Cuban, to immerse themselves in their Cuban culture.

“There’s always been a layer of separation between me and Cuba because I’ve never been able to experience what it’s like to be there,” she said. “I came here today to honor my Cuban roots, and seeing this exhibition really produced an element of pride in me.”

She said the exhibition helped her feel stronger about her Cuban identity, despite sometimes feeling disconnected from the Hispanic community in Gainesville.

“Because Gainesville has a smaller Hispanic population, sometimes we feel lost and isolated on our own, especially when we’re used to big families and connected cultures at home,” she said. “This exhibition provided a space for the Hispanic community to connect, and I think that’s beautiful.”

Attendees of other Hispanic backgrounds described similar feelings of connection to their cultures while viewing the exhibition.

Ashley Hays, UF freshman and a first-generation American, said her move to Gainesville has made her aware of what she had at home.

"Moving to Gainesville has made me feel really separate from my roots, my family and my culture," Hays said.  "After feeling separated from home, coming to see this exhibit allowed me to feel more connected to where I came from.”

The exhibition features pieces with vivid colors and a wide range of textures and patterns as they tell stories of Cuban artists. Some pieces use unique components, such as blacklighting or an accompanying performance.

One performance provided an opportunity for Alexis Sealy, a UF junior majoring in fine arts, to showcase her professional work as a choreographer-in-residence at the Harn Museum of Art.

Sealy choreographed a routine with six dancers in collaboration with "Cada sonido es una forma del tiempo (Every Sound is a Shape of Time )," a collection of six images of ordinary objects organized in a horizontal line.

“When we see a photograph, we see one still image, but behind that one still image is a whole world of senses we don't get to see,” Sealy said. “In my choreography, I envisioned bringing those images to life. Each dancer represented and embodied one of the photographs.”

Tami Wroath, director of marketing and public relations at the Harn Museum of Art, discussed the museum’s approach to making art more accessible through performances.

“Sometimes art can be a little scary or difficult for people to approach,” she said, “but if we have dancing, music and activities, they might feel a little more welcomed, allowing them to connect with the art.”

The event was part of the Harn Museum of Art’s Museum Nights, which showcase works of art and unique attractions on the second Thursday of the month.

“It’s important for us to celebrate Hispanic heritage for visitors to see themselves in the works of art, but also to educate others who aren’t of Hispanic heritage about that culture,” Wroath said.  “Museum Nights are great educational opportunities.”

These events are supported by UF Student Government and the UF Center for Latin American Studies.

"We receive funding from the Department of Education through Title VI grants, and through that generous funding, we are able to support events like this,” said Alicia Reynolds, the outreach coordinator for the UF Center for Latin American Studies.

The Harn Museum of Art offers free admission, and the Rice Collection of Cuban Art will be available to visitors until Jan. 7, 2024.

“I’m so glad so many people get to see the beautiful works of Cuban artists who immigrated from a country that is so close yet so far away,” Mooney said. “I’m proud of my heritage, and I'm proud of where I come from.”

Emily is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing