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As U.S. Reengages With Cuba, Art Museums Make a Trade

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There were talks between the U.S. and Cuba in Havana this week. And while no breakthroughs were announced, cultural exchanges, as well as trade and travel, are expected to increase. The Bronx Museum of the Arts has already begun a collaboration with the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, which will feature art that shows urban life. Sergio Bessa is the Bronx Museum's program director.

SERGIO BESSA: We are looking for common threads between the two communities. And if you have traveled to Havana, you will see that the local culture is spectacular, and I think it's the same thing with the Bronx.

SIMON: Later this year, more than 80 U.S. works of art, dating from the 1960s, will travel to Havana. Next year, more than a hundred pieces will come from Cuba to the Bronx. The works of Cuban artists will include the late Antonio Vasquez, who paints in a style that reminds critics of Goya, or Alfredo Sosabravo, who paints bright, vivid figures that purportedly have a critical edge. Both exhibitions will be called "Wild Noise" - words that Sergio Bessa says echo in the history of art in the Bronx.

BESSA: For example, in the early '80s, when young artists were experimenting with graffiti art, they refer to it as the wild style.

SIMON: The project will exchange artists as well as pieces of art. Mary Mattingly of New York will go to Cuba this year to create a new work and meet Cubans. Humberto Diaz, the Cuban artist, will come to the Bronx in 2016. There are also plans to connect American and Cuban teenagers by having them exchange emails and jointly work on zines and other projects.

BESSA: It goes beyond just the exhibition. I think it's more a model of engagement - it's a model of engagement through the arts.

SIMON: Sergio Bessa says he hopes the project will give Americans and Cubans alike a fuller understanding of life in countries that are so close, but have mostly been isolated from each other for half a century.

BESSA: I think when you are isolated for such a long time, you're going to fantasize about the other. And I think projects like this, people just realize there is much more in common than they suspected. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.