|Havana's Damas de Blanco
arriving in St. Peter's Square
José Grave de Peralta
|Toroazul Painting and Fine Arts
This oil painting of Piazza San Pietro measures over 1 meter high and seems to
have been painted from the air. On March 27, 2012, this work was auctioned in
Miami, and the entire proceeds from the sale went to help the group of pacifist
women in Cuba shown here arriving in St. Peter's Square. In fact, in Cuba these
ladies are often physically abused and carried off in paramilitary buses by
government militia brandishing clubs and other hard objects, when the women
make their weekly procession to the church of Santa Rita along Havana's Fifth
Avenue, to voice their wish for freedom.
The subject of the painting, then, is the "dream" arrival (my dream) of this group
of valiant ladies who call themselves Las Damas de Blanco (The Ladies in White)
and who march in this fashion since the early 2000s to protest the incarceration of
many of their husbands or brothers (initially some 75), without fair trial, for various
supposed "crimes against the State." Some of these "crimes" include setting up
humble homespun libraries in various Cuban cities or simply voicing publicly and
peacefully their desire for individual freedoms in the Island.
The ladies usually dress in white and carry a spear of gladioli to express their
belief in a non-violent resolution to the unjust treatment of citizens in Castro's
My dream would be that somehow these Ladies in White would be able to march
into the Square of St Peter's one day,headed by a small procession of Cuba's
patron, La Virgen de la Caridad ..... (Click here to read the newspaper article
about the sale and auction, which appeared in Miami's El NUEVO HERALD )
In the second painting (horizontal pastel medium) the DAMAS de BLANCO are
shown inside the Vatican collections as they meet with the Pope. One of the ladies
and a Franciscan friar symbolically hold a CHAIN in front of the Pontiff. The scene
takes place in the Hall of the Maps.
This area of the Palace is a grand gallery of geographical, aerial views of all the
regions of Italy, painted in 1571 in the medium of "dry" fresco. At the time, the
maps were researched on foot (there were no hot air balloons then) and painted
subsequently for a very progressive and clear-sighted Pope, Gregory XIII, who in
fact gave the world the Gregorian calendar we now use, A visitor to this famous
area of the Vatican today will learn that the 16th-century maps include even the
area of Avignon (France) where the Popes were exiled in the past. So even
though politically Avignon is not in the political or immediate geographical vicinity
of mainland Italy, its history makes the area part of Papal Italy.
The fact that in my painting the Ladies in White "meet" the Pope in front of a map
of Cuba is more than an interpolation. Since its discovery by Christopher
Columbus in 1492, Cuba has been a Catholic nation -- so my idea was to include
a map of the island in this geographical hallway of Vatican lands in order to
suggest that our story also belongs there on some level.
At the top of my Cuba map in the painting, one reads the title: CUBA NOVA, which
in Italian would mean, NEW CUBA. But in Spanish, it could also be read: "Cuba
does not GO" --- it does not move.... This idea of immobility is brought out by the
symbolic chain that the 5 ladies and the friar hold in front of the Pope, not
precisely barring his movement but perhaps inviting him to think about why Cuba
itself does not move or go anywhere.
When the first Pope, St. Peter, was held prisoner in a Roman prison shortly before
his eventual death by crucifixion, according to the legends, the Archangel Raphael
himself entered the jail cell at night and liberated Jesus' follower, by breaking the
chains that bound him.
This painting was a challenge for me on many levels, and I often thought that its
"message," if I may use this word, poses an important question for Cubans about
their deeper identity and their right or obligation to meditate on the country's future
in the light of Catholicism. Surely, the Ladies in White themselves, when they
march Havana's streets on their way to the church of Jesus de Miramar or others,
are trying to arrive in St. Peter's with their pleas for freedom.
|Close-up detail of the canvas,
showing the Ladies as they enter the
The Ladies in White arriving in St.Peter's
120 cm / 80 cm
|Saint Peter in Chains:
The Ladies in White meet the Pope