By Peter Boyle
Joan Coxsedge, the left-wing former Labor MP, says she had been wanting to visit Cuba for ages before she finally made her first visit in February 1992. "I wore two hats. One was as a long-time political activist keen to meet and talk with as many Cubans as possible to learn about their lives and find out how they were coping with the 32-year American economic blockade. The other was as an artist equally keen to see and draw the magnificent old Spanish buildings that graced its major cities."
She came back with a few drawings and a whetted appetite to see and draw more of Cuba. Her chance came when, finally free of parliamentary duties, she joined the 1993 Southern Cross Brigade to Cuba. Between picking oranges, planting beans and attending many meetings, she managed to squeeze in a bit of drawing time. Then she stayed on for a further 10 days after the brigade ended to get more drawing done.
She stayed at the Ambos Mundos Hotel, in the heart of old Havana, in a room that was directly underneath the one once inhabited by Ernest Hemingway. "From my window, I looked on to the back of the Palace of the Captains-General and the red-tiled roof of the oldest house in Havana, with Morro Castle just across the water.
"Despite its shabbiness and urgent need of repair and general facelift, Old Havana remains a city of immense charm and allure. It is an artist's dream with its noble houses, great cathedral, narrow cobblestone streets leading into broad squares and above all the Cuban people", says Coxsedge.
The Cubans are desperately short of everything we take for granted, she added, and are not backward in grumbling. "But no-one I spoke with — and I met hundreds of Cubans from all walks of life — wanted to change their social system, because they see capitalism as inhuman and destructive."
Coxsedge hopes her drawings will directly assist Cuba
to survive these difficult times. The proceeds of sales of prints of these drawings, at $30 each, will go towards projects in Cuba. She hopes her coming exhibition will also entice more people to visit Cuba. While she has mixed feelings about the effect of mass tourism, she realises that this is an important source of foreign earnings for Cuba.
Next year her drawings will be exhibited in Havana. Her next local exhibition will be of drawings from Melbourne's western suburbs.
"Old Cuba — A World Heritage", an exhibition of pen and pastel drawings of Cuba's historic buildings by Joan Coxsedge, will be held between July 20 and August 1 at the Meat Market Craft Centre, 42 Courtney Street, North Melbourne. The official opening will be conducted by Dr Marcelino Fajardo, consul general of Cuba, on July 25 at 2.30 p.m. Inquiries (03) 857 9249.