‘Imagining Cuba’ provides insight into secret lives of Cubans

The Tyler Art gallery features work by married couple, Liudmila & Nelson. Their series, entitled “Hotel Habana,” is a combination of photography and photoshop. (Photo provided by oswego.edu)
The Tyler Art gallery features work by married couple, Liudmila & Nelson. Their series, entitled “Hotel Habana,” is a combination of photography and photoshop. (Photo provided by oswego.edu)

Imagining Cuba is the newest art exhibit in Tyler Hall, displaying a peek into the life of Cuban citizens. Through various photographs, the exhibit, open between March 26 and April 27, showcases a great range of artwork by artists from the United States, Cuba and Italy. The director of the exhibit, Michael Flanagan organized the show and was able to give insight on the motives behind the exhibit.

‘Imagining Cuba’ is a name that might have people curious to find out what the exhibit is trying to demonstrate. After speaking with Flanagan, it is clear that all the pieces are unified by one idea: uncovering the mystery of Cuban life. Because Cuba has had limited interaction with the U.S. since 1961, it is difficult for Americans to imagine Cuban society. The photographers displayed in the exhibit their ability to catch moments of life in Cuba that are simple, yet show the profundity of being human. The pictures shine a light on part of the world that is quite unknown to Americans.

The artists include Dario de Dominicis, Ernesto Javier Fernandez, Rene de Jesus Pena Gonzalez, Gianni Gosdan, Julieve Jubin, Liudmila and Nelson, Antonio Gomez Margolles, Alejandro Gonzalez Mendez, Sandro Miller and Umberto Sommaruga.  Jubin is a faculty member of the art department at Oswego State, as well as a coordinator of the photography minor and co-curator to Carmen Lorenzetti for the exhibit. Jubin took students to Havana in 2011, where she took the photographs that sparked the exhibit and are also featured in this semester’s show. Her photographs will also appear in Fototeca in Havana, Cuba between Jan. 10 and Feb. 10 of 2014.

“She [Jubin] finds a lot of spirit and joy [in Cuban citizens] and she wants to reflect that she’s not an American critic,” Michael Flanagan said. “We can get along with Cuba even if they are communist.”

In many ways, Cuba is frozen in time, as many photographs from the exhibit reveal. One of Jubin’s pieces is a photograph of a man standing over the hood of his car working on the engine. The car is extremely outdated. The photograph is titled, “Mechanic.” The photo is simple, with just a man and his red car, which reflects the light of the hot sun that the viewer can nearly feel radiating on his or her skin. The car is likely outdated because Cuba’s lack of communication with the U.S. makes it near impossible to import new parts for the U.S. made cars. Jubin has two other pieces of work in the show. “Boys Playing Baseball,” is the title of a piece of her work that shows the simple joys of young boys playing baseball in the street together. The other piece entitled “Malecon,” is a photo of five soldiers in uniform sitting or standing near the shore. Most of the soldiers are facing the water except for one, who is facing her boyfriend. The soldiers’ green uniforms stand out on the sand-colored pavement they sit on and intensifies the clear blue sky. The beauty of the photo is demonstrated in how each soldier is doing something different. One is alone, the others are paired up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. The photo truly captures how natural and even serene life can be for Cubans, as compared to how outsiders might think Cubans feel. The question the gallery forces viewers to deal with is “Are Cubans really oppressed?”

Liudmila & Nelson are a married couple who make extraordinary photography. Their pieces in the show allow first for aesthetic pleasure and next for interpretation. The photographs are all in a series called “Hotel Habana.” Each photograph has been edited in Photoshop. “Prado and Neptuno” is one picture from the series, which shows how Cuba looks currently, with black and white photographic evidence of current hotels and stores and is edited with vivid advertisements and structures that might be found in a place like Tokyo or the U.S.  The second photo is called “Bishop and Havana.” The photo takes a small pedestrian-only street and has countless amounts of people put into the photo through Photoshop. The people walking by are blurred enough so that the viewer can only make out limbs or heads which appear to be busily bustling north and south of the street. The photo is quite superb as well as thought-provoking. Due to the three-dimensional effect, the people are nearly walking off the streets of Cuba and into the gallery.

Some photographs are entirely in black and white, while others are in color. They all have the common thread of capturing moments of daily Cuban life. There are photographs of people escaping to Miami on man-made rafts, children in boxing gear, people watching television and even people throwing large parties. Alejandro Gonzalez Mendez’s photographs expose teenagers drinking, partying and listening to music. The artist is comparing Cuban teenagers to any other teenager in the world, drawing the parallel that all teens are equally as interested in being with friends and having a good time.

The photos in the gallery have an interesting story about their journey to America. Opposite to artist Sandro Miller, who lives in Chicago, much of the artwork came from Cuban photographers. The artwork presented behind Plexi glass in the gallery was mostly printed on campus from digital copies sent by the artists through email.

Experiencing Cuba through this lens is something new to the campus of Oswego State, and this gallery is rich with colors, emotions, history and most importantly, the soul of Cuba.