Jaba con juguetes copyOn New Year’s Eve 1958, the Cuban Revolution deposed the ruling military dictatorship and opened a new political era for the country. This event changed not only the political and social reality in the island but also the material environment, including domestic spaces and leisure activities, affected by the strategies of legitimation of the Cuban socialist regime.

Pioneros: Building Cuba’s Socialist Childhood explores the relationship between the political and the material orders in Cuban socialism. It offers a portrait of the effects of global and national politics on the material environment and in everyday life. It also shows the resilience of some individual practices to politics.

Pioneros… delves on the efforts of the Cuban state –single producer and merchant– to shape a socialist “new” man and instill particular notions of Cubanness, socialism, and modernity, associated with a “luminous” communist future. The exhibition also presents the limitless inventiveness and creativity with which human beings react to totalitarian politics and pursue alternative dreams.

The exhibit features over three-hundred items, including toys, furniture, books, clothing, appliances, and children ephemera from the 1960s to the 1980s, as well as many photographs from the period obtained through Facebook and other social media, or directly contributed by their owners. The exhibit also showcases posters, television shows, and recorded music from the period. The series of photographs produced by Cuban-born artist Geandy Pavon, a former pionero and now exile, anchors this collection of ephemera as a critical part of the present.

Pioneros… offers the North American public (and early generations of Cuban exiles) an intimate glimpse of everyday life in socialist Cuba, period excised from the US imaginary. The public will dialogue with contentious conceptions and representations of childhood, freedom, state and individual rights, privacy, and modernization, presented not as abstract categories but as directly affecting everyday life.

There could be no better timing for this exhibition, as the U.S. has headed, since December 17, 2014, towards an accelerated thaw of relations with the neighboring country, which has unleashed much curiosity about the system that kept the island relatively isolated for such a long period. As a result, a morbid fascination has in these days brought Cuba to the mainstream media, and it is expected that interest in the country will continue to grow in the immediate future.

This is the first time that a major collection of domestic and public artifacts from Cuban socialism is exhibited. The objects featured in the show have been gathered in the last three years as part of the project Cuba Material, founded in 2012 by María A. Cabrera Arús.

María A. Cabrera Arús