I Want You (But Not You)

With the stars of the Buena Vista Social Club band playing venues like Carnegie Hall, Lisner Auditorium, and the Kennedy Center, it seems that Cuban musicians have an easier time getting into the U.S. than your average Macanudo. At the height of the Cuban-culture frenzy the group started in 1999, it seemed timely for Georgetown’s Fraser Gallery to include Cuban artist Niurka Inurrieta in its upcoming exhibit of young printmakers from around the world.

“Inurrieta’s work had just been exhibited in Portugal,” says Catriona Fraser, owner of the Fraser Gallery and co-curator of the exhibition, “and when I saw it for the first time, I was very impressed by her imagery and technical skill.”

Inurrieta accepted Fraser’s invitation to attend the first-ever showing of her work in the U.S., but when she applied for an artist’s visa to attend the exhibition’s opening reception, she found that Uncle Sam’s open arms extended only to internationally renowned musicians, not to budding visual artists. “We don’t know why [her visa] was denied,” says Roberto Wong, a spokesman for Inurrieta. “Artist’s visas are usually approved as matter of routine for invited Cuban artists.”

Wong suggests that the legal battle over the patriation of Elian Gonzalez, the celebrated 6-year-old Cuban refugee boy found floating off Florida at Thanksgiving, may have “poisoned the waters” for Inurrieta’s visit. But Fraser’s husband, Lennox Campello, isn’t so sure: “Not everybody gets to [leave Cuba], but she had already been to Portugal, so she obviously isn’t an immigration risk. Why are some [Cuban artists granted visas] and not others? Maybe because she is not a big name, because from what we understand, the Cuban government doesn’t have a problem with it.”

“She was devastated,” Wong said in a gallery press release. “As an artist, making a debut in the United States is a major accomplishment, and not being able to be present at the opening is a major heart-break for Niurka.”

“We are disappointed, but more for her,” says Fraser. “As an artist, this is something you work for….It gives so much to the artists to be able to see their work and be at the reception and hear positive feedback.”

Fraser, a native of England, isn’t surprised to confront another inconsistency in U.S. immigration policy: “I’ve been married legally for five years to an American citizen, and I still haven’t gotten my permanent resident card.”—Amanda Fazzone

“Printmakers Only” opens Friday, Jan. 21, at the Fraser Gallery, 1054 31st St. NW. For more information, call (202) 298-6450.