a preview of the project I did in Cuba with Daniel Castro. Photo © Daniel Castro
Cuba, home of cigars, rum and some of the greatest world music. The country that made Ché Guevara the martyr he is, celebrated throughout the world as the symbol of revolution. The domain of Fidel and his own definition of Socialism. It’s a place where “business carreer” is a term with no meaning, where lawyers play instruments at night, teachers ride bycicle taxis during the weekends and cab drivers sell fake cigars for an extra dollar. A place where women and girls – doctors, government officials and students – become prostitutes as soon as they see a foreigner to earn a monthly salary within a night. It is a country with free healthcare and education and therefore the country with the second highest education rate ( 99.9% ) on this planet but at the same time with one of the least future perspectives, not due to poverty but to restrictions, intimidation and pre-assembled curriculum vitaes.
The Cuba I knew before I entered was a romantic description of what it really is. And yet, it’s a country of people with warm hearts and sharp minds. People who realize quite well the trapped situation they are living in. Some with lethargy and some with an unbreakable spirit to make the best of a bad situation.
It never happened before during my trip that reality punched me in the face that hard. From the moment we got picked up at the airport, people couldn’t stop talking about their feelings. There was more or less a consensus within the opinion of all cubans. They love their country and not everything is bad but they hate living a life in prison, not being able to cross the border and see the world, to do with their lifes what they feel like nor to speak what they think as long as it disagrees with the authority opinion.
It so happened that a photography/video art project collaboration with Daniel Castro ( who I worked for in San Francisco ) became over night a journalistic project with lots of interviews behind and in front of the camera. On our second night we met two young cuban students who wanted to help us talk to people and find doors for the photography part. They showed us the real life and by the time we finished our project everyone in the area of Old Havana knew who we were – the two foreigners who carry around doors and take pictures of people in front of them in the middle of the street. What they didn’t know was, that we interviewed each of them, asked questions about the situation in Cuba and the personal effect on their lifes. We met people who haven’t seen their kids for years after they were trying to escape to the US on a boat, not knowing if they are still alive. We talked to people who were drowning their sorrows in rum and to people who were exotic dancers and in love with Fidel Castro.
When we started this project we didn’t really understand the gravity of the situation we put ourselves and especially the cubans in who took part in the project. Walking around, filming people saying their opinions is not something the authorities like to see. Everytime we passed a police officer our two cuban helpers had to show their id’s and slowly but steady a mild form of paranoia spreaded in our heads. What if someone gets arrested if they find out? What if we leave, publish the interviews online and the police know the faces of criticism? After our long shoots we were figuring out the worst case scenarios until late in the night, to not lose touch with reality.
My own paranoia culminated two days before I was planning to fly out of Cuba in a situation that illustrated how it could have ended:
Daniel had left to the States already and I spent my last days in Cuba on my own. On that particular evening I was on my way home with a doggy bag of rice and beans for dinner. When I turned into our street, a huge crowd was standing opposite of my house, staring, talking to each other. When I saw what they were staring at, my steps slowed down for a moment. 5 police cars and several officers who shielded the house 2 doors away from the place where I lived. I sped up walking and tried to hide my panickiness, passed the police cars and disappeared in the crowd to stand and watch as they did, with my carton box of food. After a minute of standing the crowd slowly started to get louder, something must have happened. When a man around my age in handcuffs surrounded by 3 policeman appeared in the entrance of that house, the crowd became a mob. Furiously they started to get closer to the man to beat and kick him. The police reacted fast and led the man into the car, saved from the people who were now beating and kicking the police car he was sitting in. Seconds later the tumultuary scene turned again into a normal street scene. People were sitting or standing in groups, chatting over a cigar and a glass of Mojito. My rice and beans dinner tasted like the carton I carried it in after I returned home.
We both consider ourselves as designers/artists and never planned to play journalists…but Cuba didn’t really leave us a chance.
The video will be coming in the near future together with a gallery show in the US. And hopefully those guys will understand one day that the embargo on Cuba isn’t helping anyone.
Belated merry christmas from the Domenican Republic
( meanwhile almost 3.000 prisoners were released in the largest mass pardon in the history of Cuba under the Castro regime )
Some pictures that I took during my stay in Cuba without any context to the project
( click to enlarge gallery )