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First US-Cuba museum exchange in 5 decades

KEY WEST, Florida -- Sandra Ramos has never wanted to emigrate from Cuba, but in her more than four decades on the island, she has seen many people leave.

Their absence resonates throughout her work. The image of her as a 10-year-old is plastered behind a wall of palm trees, trapped on the island. In another piece, her school girl's body lies across a gaping space in the middle of a bridge, trying to connect two separate lands.

“It's a perspective on immigration from those who stay,” Ramos said.

Now, Ramos and other Cuban artists, all of whom were raised on the island and have launched international careers from there, are exhibiting their works in Key West. Organizers say it is the first exchange between Cuban and U.S. museums in more than five decades.

The exhibit is called “One Race” and was launched in Havana with a show featuring the work of the late Cuban-American artist Mario Sanchez at the flagship National Museum of Fine Arts in January. The Key West component opened Thursday and, in addition to the seven artists from Cuba, also includes the work of Xavier Cortada, an artist born in the U.S. to Cuban parents who is working with children in Florida to send drawings to young students on the island.

A Unique Vantage

Collectively, the exhibit offers a unique vantage point of the Cuban experience — providing a glimpse of life in the U.S. through the eyes of Sanchez to viewers in Havana, and sharing the viewpoint of artists who grew up with the revolution to gallery-goers in Florida.

“I think what's important about this exhibit is precisely to get a more realistic view,” Ramos said.

Among each other, the artists have explored the revolution that divided them not just with their art, but in words.

“I suffered,” Cortada, who was born in New York, told Ramos at Thursday's opening. “I didn't have a homeland. I had parents who lost everything.”

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In this Thursday, Feb. 20 photo, patrons look at work by Cuban artist Manuel Mendive at the Studios of Key West in Key West, Florida. Mendive's work is on display as part of an exhibit that organizers say is the first exchange between Cuban and U.S. art museums in more than five decades.

(AP)

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