Cuba 1959: The Second Front
For this freedom which is youths empire
For this freedom
As beautiful as life
We have to give our all
If necessary even our shadows
And it will never be enough
“Por esta libertad’, Fayad Jamis, Havana
As a visual artist I am primarily interested in hidden stories unreported by mainstream media. My current project, ‘Cuba 1959: The Second Front’ explores the historical memory of the veterans of the Cuban Revolution that still live in the ‘Sierra Maestra’ of Cuba – the place where they were born and fought as teenagers in Fidel Castro’s rebel army over fifty years ago. This will be followed by a second phase exploring youth culture in Cuba. The nostalgia, memory and legacy of the veterans will be juxtaposed with the aspirations for a different tomorrow of the country’s youth. These two seemingly contrary themes are inextricably linked, and meet face-to-face in the evident generation gap between the grandfathers and grandchildren of contemporary Cuba, a country that currently finds itself in a push-pull struggle of economic and ideological survival within a globalized, capitalistic world. January 2011 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the United States severing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Given the present political climate and poor economic condition of Cuba, it is evident that this is a time for urgent reflection and reconciliation between two countries whose governments somehow remain frozen in a ‘cold war’, decades after the end of The Cold War. My hope is that the future leaders of Cuba- the grandchildren of this revolutionary legacy- can look to an alternative future without forgetting the struggles of the past.
Through portraits of the veterans in their homes -the environment that defines them- fragments of their past are visually extracted to unveil life stories of the anonymous protagonists of the rebellion that changed the nation forever and gave way to the socialist system that prevails in Cuba. Only though their personal histories can we begin to understand the complexity of the island. My stylistic choice for this work was ‘collaborative’ portraiture blurring the boundaries between fine art and documentary photographic practice. I use classical compositions and mostly natural light to capture the character and essence of these countrymen, who for me are the embodiment of an ideology. I found that the process of being photographed wearing their military uniforms and medals, provoked, in many, an emotional journey into their past and created a space for self-reflection, adding an interesting psychological dimension to the project. Despite the toil of post Soviet alliance years and the prolongation of the economic embargo they remain devoted to ‘La Revolucion’, for she has given them everything tangible in their lives, as well as their life purpose.