Ever since the United States issued an embargo on Cuba in 1962, the exchange of information, like the exchange of goods, has slowed to a trickle.
The blockade, said Steven Certilman, has "left Americans deeply curious about Cuba."
"They probably fill some of the voids with little pieces they've heard," he added. "But they're hardly getting the full picture."
The Greenwich resident is hoping to color in the gaps with "Absolut Kuba!," an exhibition of contemporary Cuban art on view at the Carriage Barn Arts Center at Waveny Park in New Canaan. The exhibition runs through June 1.
"Absolut Kuba!" features nearly 100 works from the collection of Certilman and his wife, Terri, who have been traveling to Cuba and acquiring Cuban art since the mid-1990s. The collection spans a variety of mediums and themes that reflect the Cuban experience: emigration, unemployment, geographic and political isolation and relations with the nation's much larger neighbor to the north.
They are serious issues, and Cubans artists tend to address them the best way they know how -- with a wink and a smirk.
"They have a great sense of humor," Certilman said of Cuban artists. "They use double entendre and subtle references with deeper meaning. The more you look, the more you understand about their experience."
Abel Barroso's "Green Card" is a large-scale replica of America's elusive resident ID made with different-colored pencil shavings. Certilman said the piece illustrates the "arduous process by which one gets a green card," including traveling, typically by boat, to Central America, crossing the U.S. border and navigating the American immigration system.
"The making of the piece runs parallel to the experience of getting a green card," Certilman said. "(Barroso) did it out of pencil shavings because it's a painstaking process to pick the right colors, organize them the right way and glue them onto a surface. He treats something that we don't think twice about, but that the average Cuban is acutely aware of, in a very humorous way."
According to Certilman, the once-inchoate Cuban art scene has grown by leaps and bounds since the mid-1990s, when contemporary artists, aided by decades of government support, came into their own.
"It created a whole new class of artisans," he said.
The movement represents a facet of Cuban culture of which many Americans are unaware. For many people, Cuba is often synonymous with Fidel Castro, human rights abuses and "tugs of war over prisoners," Certilman said.
"But that's not what it's all about," he continued. "By looking at the art of Cuba and considering what they're talking about, we have a much better impression of what's going on there and a greater understanding not just of the social, economic and political realities, but of the people, who face a lot of challenges and address them universally with a very positive attitude."
The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. For gala tickets, visit www.carriagebarn.org. For information, call 203-972-1895.
Scott.firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @scottgarg