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A long time ago, thousands of young people from all over the world—mainly from socialist countries, but also from sympathetic countries and from capitalist countries sent by leftist parties—were studying in the USSR. The main aim of our learning experience was to become specialists in disseminating around the world the ideas of Marxism-Leninism. This meant to champion communism, in our case, through Socialist Realism.

Manuel Alcayde, a young student from Havana, moved to Moscow in 1978 to study painting and stage design. Even though pro-Soviet tendencies were gaining ground within state institutions in Cuba, Cuban Socialist Realism never managed to advance much beyond the level of cultural policy. Some Soviet tutors were working in Cuban art education in the late 1970s, but students joked about the “muddiness” of the official styles they taught (even convincing the tutors to adopt the term, without explaining the meaning, so they would then tell their students to paint “more muddy”).

Moscow’s art system, however, was still dominated by “official art” and managed through a complex of governmental and professional organizations, associated exhibition spaces, artists’ associations, and awards. During his time in Moscow, Alcayde met a group of young artists who called themselves the Mukhomors (“Toadstools,” specifically the iconic amanita muscaria variety, red with white spots, poisonous and hallucinogenic) and entered the circles of “unofficial” art:

I visited exhibitions, actions, concerts, readings, and participated in tertulias. These events could happen anywhere and everywhere—including the living room of an apartment, a park, a cottage in the countryside, the metro or other outdoor spaces—with the fake excuse of a special occasion, such as a birthday or a welcome party. They were put together within limited budgets and were almost always constrained by legal and political limitations, including extreme political risks.

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