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September 9, 2010 – 11:39 am

When you think of Cuba, the first things that probably come to mind are great music, rum and communism. The Caribbean island, legendary for its octogenarian pianists and birthplace of the mojito, has a new export: art. But this is no ordinary art. In a country where everything is reused and recycled, classic 1950s American cars are painstakingly maintained and kept alive long after their natural expiry dates, because their owners could never afford new ones, a new exhibition in Seville showcases new Cuban artists’ treatments of fridges.

As strange as this may sound, it has a certain logic: in 2005, the Cuban government announded a new “Revolucion Energetica” whereby people were strongly encouraged to get rid of their old fridges (those beautiful rounded ones with big metal handles), and buyer new, more economical ones.

So a collective of Cuban artists called “Los Frios” decided to start a project of making these essential household objects into works of art. In many case, they had been handed down from generation to generation, precious machines for storing food in a tropical climate. They are considered “part of the family”, as one of the artists, Rafael Perez Alonso, told me.

Of the 52 neveras on show in “Los Frios, Monstruos Devoradores de Energia”, there are inevitable political, religious and social statements. One of my favourite was the confessional fridge, called “Hable Maria”, which had three confessional windows, on front and sides, with kneelers placed below them.

The American intelligence service also makes an appearance: one fridge is covered in woodcuts, with one side saying “CIA”, with (surveillance) planes and boats; the front showed a map of Europe with the former communist states, and the Berlin wall; another side had KGB tanks and nuclear missiles; and cut-outs of warheads, rockets and guns. The darker side of Cuba’s recent history.

One fridge is made up to look like a hessian bag, with huge handles; this refers to “Plan Jaba”, part of the major social changes wrought by the Revolution. For the first time, women were encouraged to go out to work, rather than stay at home, but due to long hours, had no time to shop. So when they managed to arrive in the queue to collect their rations of food and household goods like soap, two of the working women were served for every one housewife. Jaba is the rationing system, but is also used to mean the bags themselves.

The fridges are in Seville for three days only: 8-10 September, ie today and tomorrow. They’re in Barcelona later in the month. The setting is perfect; the historic, cobbled Plaza de San Francisco, behind the ornate Ayuntamiento building, and next to beautiful former Caja San Fernando headquarters. You can wander around the colourful, fascinating machines from 11am to 12pm.

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