Manuel Rivera-Ortiz, Tilling The Land, Pinar del Rio, Cuba series, 2003.

Manuel Rivera-Ortiz: Cuba

April 3—27, 2006
Opening Reception: Sunday, April 2
Artist Talk: Sunday April 23

Seventh & Second Photo Gallery
Middle Collegiate Church
50 East 7th Street @ 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003

“I decided to go to Cuba in the spring of 2002 as a personal project of self discovery and remembrance. I had known for some time that Cuba was still my 1970s Puerto Rico; I had heard it from Pap’s friends who had migrated from there some years back. I remember their stories about Fidel, and about the hardships. But mostly I remember their stories about daily life, and about how close to my own upbringing it really was. With camera, film, paper and pen in hand, I left for Cuba in search of my past.

The present-day Cuban situation continues to command headlines in the U.S. and abroad. Cuba, a living monument to 1950s Americanism, has become a photographers paradise with its old cars and its cities permanently caught in time and space. It attracts tourists from all over the world who come eager to experience life in a living museum. Meanwhile, all around them, between the Mojitos and the big fancy dinners atop the Hotel Presidente, the Cuban people themselves try to eek out a living working the tobacco plantations to the west, or as tourist guides to the hordes of rich westerners. In Old Havana, buildings can suddenly crumble under their own weight. This is Fidel’s Cuba, not the Cuban people’s Cuba.

On the road, hand painted Che Guevara portraits and writings like Venceremos!, We shall overcome! plaster the side of buildings. Politics is everywhere, even as I myself had found the Puerto Rico I had gone there to find with its smell of burning wood or trash coming from back yards; of children on the streets playing made-up games with old tires and a stick; of the faces of a people who have but themselves and a collapsing roof over their heads to call their home; of farmers who still grow their own sustenance and teach the young to do the same.

What follows, then, is a series of images that are both a reflection of Cuba and its people, and of my Puerto Rico. While I am eager to return again to Cuba to continue my very personal journey there, the current political climate between this land and theirs makes it impossible to return for one moment to relive such an enriching experience again.”