Ninety miles off the coast of Key West, Florida, the island republic of Cuba is one of the more complex cultural scenarios of the Western hemisphere: a blend of Latino, African, American, and socialist influences (all in large measure, though not necessarily in that order).
The first impression of Havana in travel books of the past century was of a group of houses bordering the harbor with leafy trees between them. Travelers praised the harbor, one of the best in the New World, for its setting, both open and sheltered.
When most people today think of photography from Cuba, it is the imagery of revolution that first comes to mind. The bearded guerrillas Fidel Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos entering Havana in 1959. Triumphant young militants. Popular mobilizations filling the streets.
The drumming never stops in Cuba—congas mostly, skin on skin beating out eerie rhythms soft as Cuba itself. Drumming can be heard from jails and from cemeteries and on some nights even from the middle of the woods as old men teach their great-grandchildren as they were taught, at the roots of what Afro-Cubans have always regarded as the sacred ceiba tree.
In the Cuban city of Las Tunas I became acquainted with an emaciated lion who, with an almost sporting stubbornness, and a punctuality that came of years of practice, announced lunchtime every day with plaintive sounds that were more like the yelps of a puppy than the roar of a wild beast.
Silvia Lizama has spent most of her life as a U.S. citizen, but her photography is heavily influenced by the Cuban exile's "theater of memory." Lizama was only two years old when her entire family arrived in Miami as Cuban exiles in 1960. Shortly after confronting and overcoming harsh realities of displacement, they relocated to a mostly American neighborhood in nearby Miami Shores, where Silvia and her four older sisters could easily assimilate into American culture.
One of the innovations introduced by the new Cuban art1 that reshaped the culture of the island during the 1980s was the definition of a way of expressing the problematic of women, from their point of view. It appeared outside of a feminist program, as part of both the subjective and the social preoccupation characteristic of the new art.
POETRY OF DARKNESS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JUAN CARLOS ALOM
LOS OJOS DE ELEGGUA
tonight before the doors of the big red house I've seen the eyes of the warrior again eleggua tongue red with blood like the heart of irons gold feet one larger the fiery roof the rearing beaming chest bursting out in shrieks eleggua leaps imagines songs grazes space with a copper dagger who will consent to him if not the stone if not the white coconut tree who will gather the shells of his eyes
In the first days of August 1994, successive acts of violence began to take place in Havana. At least two police officers were left dead, under different circumstances, and an unknown number of civilians were imprisoned and wounded. What provoked the outbreak of violence were the continuous thefts of small passenger boats by Cubans who wished, at whatever cost, to travel to Miami.
POLEMICAL PILLOW TALK STRANGE BEDFELLOWS IN STRAWBERRY AND CHOCOLATE
Cuba attracts polemical arguments as fast as ice cream melts beneath the tropical sun, and such arguments are, ultimately, similarly unsatisfying. Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, arguably Cuba's most influential film director, has served many soggy sundaes of ideologically correct cinema over the course of a career that has spanned nearly half a century.
"The twentieth century belongs to the photojournalists," Howard Chapnick announces immodestly in the first chapter of his book Truth Needs No Ally. Those of us who thought that nuclear physicists, movie directors, molecular biologists, and computer programmers had left deeper footprints in the sands of time apparently will have to think again.
"Sempre diritto" is what Venetians often will say when asked for directions. How-ever, it's almost impossible to go straight for any distance in Venice—though you might imagine you are, since it's more reassuring than acknowledging you're lost.
PEDRO ABASCAL (VAZQUEZ) has exhibited extensively throughout North America and Europe, and has had solo exhibitions at the Fototeca de Cuba and the Centro Wifredo Lam in Havana. JUAN CARLOS ALOM has participated in a variety of group exhibitions, including Houston's FotoFest of 1994.
Aperture would like to express its gratitude to Gerardo Mosquera and Erena Hernandez, for their help in many ways; to Wendy Watriss and Fred Baldwin, Houston FotoFest International, whose collaboration was invaluable to this project; to Ricardo Viera, director of the Lehigh University Art Galleries, for his guidance and his enthusiasm for CubanAmerican art; to Sandra Levinson and the Center for Cuban Studies, in New York City; to Throckmorton Fine Art, New York City; the Martha Schneider Gallery, Chicago; the Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago; and Agence France-Presse. In addition, the advice and assistance of Manuel Gonzalez, Celso Gonzalez-Falla, Cola Franzen, Janice Lewin, Ernesto Pujol, Drew Hopkins, and Alison Nordstrom were invaluable.
Front cover: photograph by Adalberto Roque, courtesy of Agence France-Presse; p. 1 photograph by Mayito, courtesy of the Center for Cuban Studies, New York City; pp. 2-3 photograph by Alex Webb, courtesy of Magnum Photos, New York City; pp. 4-5 photograph by José Azel, courtesy of Aurora & Quanta Productions, Lovell, Maine;