Cuban Heritage exhibition showcases artists’ books

A mother and child lie in a boat together on the second floor of the Otto G. Richter Library. Nearby, sharks circle in the water. The mother and child’s destination is a city skyline, where tiny yellow windows shine instead of stars.

This scene describes Margarita Cano’s book currently on display in the Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion, the home of the University of Miami’s Cuban Heritage Collection.

The Cuban Heritage Collection and the AMIGOS foundation are hosting the exhibition “Contemporary Artists’ Books from Cuba and the Diaspora” now through December.

The books on display are pieces of artwork as well as writing, and the books tell the story of the Cuban experience.

Maria R. Estorino, deputy chair and chief operations manager of the Cuban Heritage Collection, organized the exhibit’s Sept. 28 reception, which included presentations by Cano and Lydia Rubio, two of the featured artists.

“We decided to host the exhibition because these are some of the more unique items in our collection,” Estorino said. “The book is an unusual art form, and we wanted to showcase them.”

Cano was born in Havana and came to the United States in 1962. Like many Cuban artists, her books document the Cuban search for democracy and freedom.

“All of my art is based on my experience in Cuba-mountains and palm trees constantly appear in my books,” Cano said. “My work is generally a narrative of Cuba, a history, seeing what the people go through. I wanted to tell the Cuban saga.”

Cano’s work is part of a collection comprising over 400 years of Cuban books, periodicals, manuscripts, maps, postcards and photographs. Esperanza B. de Varona, chair of the Cuban Heritage Collection, said that the artists’ books are a special part of the collection because they are handmade manuscripts.

“We have all kinds of books, but these books are very special,” de Varona said.

UM is home to the most extensive collection of Cuban exile and Cuban-American experience in the U.S., and students peruse the collection as part of their studies.

“Just by looking at the pieces you can see the emotions behind it,” said Lindsey Stavola, a freshman. “Originally, [the university] had me listed as a Latin American Studies major by mistake. I was going to change it since I’m pre-med, but now I really like it.”

Rubio, who describes the process of creating a book as “an avalanche of energy,” said that the collection is a valuable resource.

“I think that all students should take a look at the books and read the books,” Rubio said. “You don’t have to be an artist to create a book about your first year at UM. It can take away the pressures of your own field. You buy an empty book and you fill it.”

Kelly Herson may be contacted at