Contemporary Art and Cuba
By Giulia Damiani.
1963. Energy, change and engrossing rhythm in Havana. This together with the bouncy cheerfulness of music were the raw materials for Agnès Varda’s documentary Salut Les Cubains recording her journey through Cuba that year. For this photomontage the French director pieced together 1500 stills which celebrated life on the island after the revolution of Fidel Castro. In the most promising moments of the film, Cubans smile while Varda makes them dance and sing. In another poignant segment Cuba’s first female director Sara Gómez is captured cutting up material shortly before her death. All in all, Salut Les Cubains projects an image of the country that is still up to date: the cliché of a bubbly population that is such despite a contradictory history; one which is both exotic and obscure for Westerners’ understanding.
But what would a portrait of Cuba look like today? Is the current rapprochement between the Caribbean island and the United States generating a newly flourishing community? In this case an almost satisfying response can be found in the enthralling relations between art and politics from Cuba.
An impression of the country at present should keep Varda’s photomontage style and extend this fragmentary quality to its content. Recent celebrated publications such as the book Dangerous Moves: Performances and Politics in Cuba by the interdisciplinary intellectual Coco Fusco have shed light on the ongoing influence of state policies on artists’ practice and vice versa.
(The image in this post is film still from Agnès Varda’s film Salut Les Cubains 1963)