Cuba, an island paradise, has been shaped by the will of man, molded by internal and external powers of the times, and distinguished itself as a singular force in the twenty-first century. In celebration of Cuba’s epic modern history, the International Center of Photography presents ¡Cuba, Cuba! 65 Years of Photography now through September 7, 2015, featuring more than 100 works by Cuban photographers including icons Alberto Korda, Raúl Corrales, and Marucha (María Eugenia Haya), and American masters such as Burt Glinn and Elliott Erwitt.
The exhibition begins in 1950, when Cuba was a fabled destination for the rich and famous, where the mafia and the government enjoyed the spoils of the high life. Hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, golf clubs and casinos flourished as Hollywood stars came to play. As government corruption only enhanced economic inequality, the groundwork was laid for the rise of the Cuban Revolution, lead by Fidel Castro in 1959.
We witness Burt Glinn’s historic pictures of victory, presenting an image of triumph, optimism, joy, and unity. With the new regime in place, Castro’s Cuba came into its own for better and for worse, as the stories are told. The photography of this period reveals the nation as it developed a way of life that brought together the issues of the times, both the new and the old.
Photo: Gilda Perez, Untitled, from the series La Habana, 1988. © Gilda Perez. Courtesy of Lehigh University Art Galleries – Museum Operation
¡Cuba, Cuba! 65 Years of Photography is the first museum survey of Cuban photography, presenting a rich and layered look at the complex history of the island. Curator Iliana Cepero observes, “The few Cuban photo exhibitions displayed in New York have tended to be fragmentary: they have either featured the 1960s photography with the iconic images of the guerrilla leaders and the intense euphoria, or they have shown more contemporary work. But what about those years in between; that decade of the 1970s when Cuban photographers were mostly forced to document labor, factories, and workers? Or the 1980s when documentary work blossomed through the photographers’ discovery of the beauty of the everyday, the vibrancy of the urban landscape, and the importance of the common person immersed in his/her domestic rituals? I felt that we needed to show these missing stories.”
¡Cuba, Cuba! 65 Years of Photography goes far beyond the common visual tropes like old cars and crumbling architecture to provide a firsthand look at the way in which people live. Stripped of the banal clichés and Western propaganda, the exhibition realizes Ciba on its citizens’ terms. We see a Cuba that is deep, profound, and personal, never hesitating to confront the challenging and the subversive. The exhibition offers more questions than answers, and it engages us to consider the chasm between appearance and reality by using photographs to provoke us to look, feel, and think.
Andrew Moore, Santa Cruz del Norte, Cuba, 1999. © Andrew Moore. Courtesy the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York
As Cepero observes, “It is difficult to discover all the multiple and convoluted layers of a country and its culture through an art exhibition but I hope that these works will
awaken the interest to understand an island that offers more than gorgeous beaches, great music and excellent cigars. I hope this show demonstrates that it is precisely the constant struggle and hardships, the material limitations, and political barriers that have ultimately nurtured the strength and vitality of Cuban photography.”
International Center of Photography presents ¡Cuba, Cuba! 65 Years of Photography now through September 7, 2015.
Header: Burt Glinn, Castro speaks in Santa Clara, January 5, 1959. © Burt Glinn / Magnum Photos
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.