CIENFUEGOS, Cuba—Cienfuegos sits between Havana and Trinidad, just off a long stretch of road flanked by empty fields. Appropriately, it was almost 100 degrees there in April when a group of American visitors met with the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC). They talked about their work with us and the purpose of their artists’ guild and, of course, sold their art to the visitors. They portrayed themselves as the “real” artists of Cuba—not the so-called artists trying to hawk cheap, knock off works to unsuspecting Canadian and European tourists wandering through the artisan markets of Havana Vieja or central Trinidad.

One image by artist Camilo Díaz de Villalvilla seemed revealing of the changing character of Cuba. Everyone knows the iconic image of Che Guevara, the handsome Argentine doctor turned Cuban revolutionary who fought alongside Fidel Castro and...

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