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The Myth of Cuba May Appeal to Tourists, but It Ignores the Country’s Complexity

The Myth of Cuba May Appeal to Tourists, but It Ignores the Country’s Complexity
By Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo

As the U.S. and Cuba re-establish relations, the Caribbean island is
poised for a dramatic change. This, in part, is the inspiration behind
“¡Cuba, Cuba!,” an International Center of Photography exhibit at the
Southampton Arts Center in New York of more than 100 photographs,
historic artifacts, political posters, and publications spanning the
past 65 years of Cuban history.

The exhibit, curated by Cuban art historian Iliana Cepero and ICP
curator Pauline Vermare, features a unique collection of works by more
than 20 Cuban photographers, including Alberto Korda, (who shot the
now-iconic image of Che Guevara), Raúl Corrales, Marucha (María Eugenia
Haya), and legendary American photographers like Burt Glinn and Elliott
Erwitt.

“The images are like a map of Cuba, a cartography of feelings, ideas,
mentalities,” Cepero said. “That is the intellectual and emotional
complexity of Cuba.

With recent renewed interest from Westerners, particularly Americans, to
visit Cuba “before it changes,” the exhibit aims to open up a dialogue
between myth and reality, to create interest in Cuba’s artistic and
cultural production, and to expose the public to different artists and
images than the ones they’ve already seen—the ossified images from the
first days of the revolution.

“That phrase, ‘before Cuba changes’ really bothers us,” Cepero
explained. “The myth is beautiful; being trapped inside it isn’t.” The
exhibit wants to challenge those myths and let everyday Cuban reality
speak for itself by asking questions. How are people dealing with
scarcity? Why is the paint peeling, why are these old cars here? It’s
not an aesthetic choice; they’re there precisely because there is no choice.

“To visit a country because it’s ‘frozen in time’ is to glorify
poverty,” she said. “It’s about foreigners who want a tropical refuge
made in the image and likeness of the fantasy they have of Cuba, while
refusing to see the people living inside that fantasy. The exhibit aims
to let Cubans tell their own story and history, and tell a different
history of photography and a different history of their country.

Both groups of photographers, the Americans and the Cubans, helped build
the myths that inform today’s reality and today’s images. The revolution
looks different under an American like Glinn’s lens compared to a Cuban
like Korda’s. Glinn showed what happened during the first weeks: chaos,
confusion, looting and destruction. Cuban photographers came later, when
the revolution was already in place, to tell stories of triumph that
aimed to portray Cuba’s place in history.

Cuba’s isolation has shaped the lives of its citizens, and its
photographers are a reflection of that. Cuban photographers were a
select group that shared tips through word of mouth, including where to
get developing materials and new photography techniques. “Cuban
photographers can’t have big egos,” Cepero said. “You have to be
solidary to survive, be humble.” As a result Cuba’s photography as a
whole has a visual unity and uniformity photography from other countries
lacks.

“¡Cuba, Cuba!” doesn’t shy away from exploring the myth of the island.
The exhibit builds on it to tell the story of Cuba as a country, as a
world on to itself, with light and shadows, and all the complexity that
entails.

“¡Cuba, Cuba!” is on view at the Southampton Arts Center in New York
through Sept. 7.

Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo is a photo editor at Slate. Follow her on
Twitter and Instagram.

Source: Cuba, Cuba!: An exhibition at the International Center of
Photography explores the complexity of Cuban life (PHOTOS). –
http://www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2015/08/17/cuba_cuba_an_exhibition_at_the_international_center_of_photography_explores.html

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