Photography after the Revolution
an essay by Cristina Vives
on a rich photographic tradition, photography in post-revolutionary
Cuba has been a thriving means of artistic expression. Based
on a major exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
Shifting Tides: Cuban Photography after the Revolution
highlights the art of three generations of Cuban photographers
who have captured through their images a legacy of a country
and its people.
by Wim Wenders
Don't think of Cuba in political terms.
You're still free to do so, of course,
but it might make you blind to what you can see in this exhibition.
Politically, Cuba might be as obsolete as the trade embargo
that continues to isolate it even further,
as if Cuba wasn't already detached enough
from the rest of the world.
So, at least for a little while,
just think of Cuba as an island,
as a small neighbour to the big United States,
not even that remote from the continental mainland,
but visible at the horizon, from the Florida Keys.
There is an old movie palace in the center of Havana.
It's simply called "AMERICA.'
In the once splendid lobby
you find a big golden mosaic on the dusty floor.
It depicts the two Americas,
surrounded by a large ornamental Circle,
a stylized North America on top and South America on the bottom.
In the middle, in the Gulf of Mexico,
lies a black embryo, as if in a womb
formed and embraced by the two Americas.
This little black bean
appears to be the very center of the golden mosaic,
as if you could spin America around
it with Cuba as the centrifugal point.
When you step out of the theater,
it does not feel as if you were entering a place
in the middle of the Americas.
You're rather in the middle of nowhere,
in terms of both space and time.
If you were just dropped here,
and the blindfold taken from your eyes
you would not ask yourself first:
"Where am I?"
but you would ask instead:
"What year are we in?"
If you just started walking and looking around,
you couldn't say whether you were in the seventies or in the
Going by the old American cars and taxis
you'd rather guess Yourself in the sixties,
but those weird Russian buses, the "camellos,"
might have you guess more towards the eighties.
Only the mostly European tourists with their digital cameras,
whom you would eventually encounter,
would give you a feeling that it might actually be around the
Cuba is better grasped as a state of mind
than in historical, political, geographical, or sociological
it is different from any other place
that you ever experienced,
an amalgamation of the most unlikely components.
Yet you feel there is an incredible sense of place,
a firm and proud sense of identity, of belonging.
The place has to be seen (and heard) to be believed.
The pictures of this exhibition do just that,
at least for me, and I hope for you, too:
They give a good impression of that Cuban state of mind.
You can enter it, via these photographs,
walk around without a blindfold,
and trust your eyes.
(Just as you trusted your ears
when you heard the music of Buena Vista Social Club.)
Cuba has a great tradition of photography,
and in this show you'll see some beautiful examples of it.
You see pictures made by three generations of photographers,
showing images of Cuba over several decades.
You might find a certain innocence in there,
a willingness to hang on to utopias and dreams
that seem strangely out of time,
at least from our "contemporary" perspective.
It's true: This is a country of dreamers.
Even if some of their dreams might have turned to nightmares,
they don't seem prepared to give up dreaming altogether
and to wake up into...
Look what happened to the dream of the big neighbor.
Yes, take a hard look at the American Dream
(look at the armies of homeless people),
and then make that journey to Cuba,
if only in photographs.
You will find a people in deepest poverty,
but no homeless ones.
You will find a firm and uncompromising belief in equality.
You will see a dignity of old age,
of old people not just "integrated" into society,
but truly a precious part of it,
You will find no trace of racial discrimination
in this Cuban state of mind,
a total absence of the cynicism and sarcasm
that we all got used to
in our world of late consumerism,
the age that the Cuban state of mind never entered.
You will find an unbroken trust
in the healing power of music and poetry.
I don't know any other place on this planet
that thrives so much on both.
I don't know any other place
where people would know the words to any song
and sing along
and refer to the song by the writer of it,
not by whoever performed it.
You're calling ME a hopeless romantic?
You ain't seen nothing yet.
You will see pictures of the Cuban Revolution.
I know how difficult they are to look at
(Please understand my quotation marks
as a reference to that mosaic of the Americas...)
lf you succeed in taking in those heroic pictures without feeling
just as you might be able to look at pictures
from the war in Vietnam
with different eyes today than at the time,
you might be able to understand
how that revolution still represents a glorious time
in the Cuban consciousness,
something they're still vaguely proud of,
even if it isn't more than a fairy tale for them today.
See the price they had to pay for that fairy tale.
See those crumbling walls of Havana,
look at them like open history books,
see those dilapidated houses, falling apart,
see the ocean battering the Malecon,
see the pictures of whores,
with nothing left to sell but their own bodies...
All I wish for you is to enter this exhibition
(and maybe that state of mind)
You will find, like I did,
obsolete,if you want,
but still pulsing,
in the womb of the Americas.
of the Exhibition
Angeles County Museum of Art
April 15 - July 1, 2001
Art Gallery, New York University, New York
August 28 - October 27, 2001
of Contemporary Photography, Chicago
November 18, 2001 - February 10, 2002