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

The Harn Museum of Art is open Thursdays until 9 p.m. for Art After Dark, a unique opportunity to experience exhibitions later in the evening. Museum Nights is part of this program. (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.

Visitors to the Harn Museum of Art walk around the exhibition and admire the works on display Friday, Sept. 14, 2023. (Emily Sturge/WUFT News)

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

UF fine arts junior Alexis Sealy stands in front of the artwork that inspired her choreography Friday, Sept. 14, 2023. “I’m so excited to share my first piece of professional work with the Gainesville community,” she said. (Emily Sturge/WUFT News)

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.”

Six dancers perform Sealy’s choreography for spectators in front of the artwork they are representing. Sounds of birds chirping and wind blowing played over speakers Friday, Sept. 14, 2023. (Emily Sturge/WUFT News)

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.”

“Cada Sonido es una Forma del Tiempo (Every Sound is a Shape of Time) by Glenda León is a series of visuals of rain, a flying bird, dice, leaves, a Braille text and a city skyline at night. (Emily Sturge/WUFT News)

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.

Artist Manuel MendiveU uses vivid colors, threads, beads and shells on canvas in a metal frame to provide a visual narrative of violence and justice Friday, Sept. 14, 2023. (Emily Sturge/WUFT News)

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.”

About Emily Sturge

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

Check Also

From dance to research, celebrating the wide range of Hispanic culture

From dancing to researching butterflies, scientists and artists displayed the wide influence of Latinx culture …