The following are abstracts of students' projects from the Hampshire in Cuba Exchange Program in spring 2009:
Pamela Arbogast F07
Photo-collage: Homenaje a La Habana, consumado "Homenaje a La Habana, consumado" es una representación visual variada de la capital cubana. La obra se inspiró en cinco repartos y municipios metropolitanos: El Vedado, Centro Habana, Habana Vieja, Santos Suárez, y Alamar. Usando como medio de expresión la fotograf'a, la artista ha tratado de crear un paisaje urbano que habla de los varios caminos que puede tener la ciudad. También recrea espacios privados, resultado de su recuentro con su pasado familiar. De descendencia cubana, Pamela ha descubierto una mitad de su historia y un cariño familiar inesperado. Por eso, su t'a y el barrio de Santos Suárez son el corazón de su fotocollage. "Homenaje..." es un intento por reclamar una ciudad siempre contada, y finalmente encontrada.
Alicia Eddy-Quintana F06
In many respects the history of Latin America has contributed to the rise and presence of the male-dominated social code of Machismo. My story begins with man's fear of losing power when their Other gains her own. This series of images began in Havana, Cuba in the spring of 2009 and will continue for years to come. It is a study, both personal and public, where identity and power are the focal points. I have attempted to create a figure of a man: a man who makes it easier for me to hate than love. This masculine figure has no reverence for me and therefore I often have contempt for him. Yet while my frustration with this man overpowers my ability to love him, I still have faith in him. Thus the images try to be respectful. They present the respect I have for him and the respect I wish was reciprocated. The images are close, detailed, and deep to show the intimacy I feel towards him while still displaying the detachment I believe exists. The camera serves as this separation. The lens of the camera allows me to get as close as possible while still representing a metaphorical severance. Thus, I am left with this contradiction. The photos are the beginning of my attempt to break this contradiction and to mend our fractured relationship.
I have been interested in Cuban music for years, and perhaps before I even heard the recorded sounds of batá or rumba drumming, I knew that I wanted to come to Cuba to study percussion. Meanwhile, in the U.S., I began studying some basic Cuban rhythms on the drum set and percussion.
I arrived in Havana humble and ready to learn, but also believing that I had some kind of firm base to build on. But, as every Cuban musician knows and will tell you, "Si no tienes clave, no tienes nada." I still don't know if I really have clave, let alone bomba, that certain something that makes the difference between just playing the music and really making it cook. Still, I know what I am most interested in learning and through incredible chance and perseverance I ended up studying with a host of incredible teachers, most especially my tutors Lázaro Pederoso and Ruy López-Nussa but also César and Leo Moré Alfonso and others who taught me in one way or another. They have been extremely patient, supportive and innovative teachers; they are exactly the people I hoped to study with in Cuba.
With Lázaro I studied batá drums of Yoruban origin, which are traditionally used in the sacred context of Santeria religious ceremonies. With the help of his grandson and Isbel Scull, Lázaro taught me the basic forms and variations of many of the most used rhythms in each of the three drums, Iyá, Itótele, and Okónkolo. This gave me a well-rounded understanding of these complex rhythms and of the functions of each of the drum.
With Ruy I studied some of the same batá rhythms adapted for the drumset, which is my main instrument. We also worked on other genres of Cuban Folkloric music such as the Rumba, Conga, and Abakuá, as well as techniques, concepts, and exercises for improvisation within these genres and traditions.
I don't yet fully know what the result of my studies will bring me as a musician or a person. I know that I will never play like a Cuban, nor is this my goal. I want to continue learning from the deep traditions and innovations alive in Cuba, while continuing to develop my own music and my own relationship to these traditions.
I hope to raise the voices of black women and shine light on their life experiences from their points of view. For too long, the experiences of black women have been devalued, silenced, and erased. Enough already! I interviewed 35 women from diverse ages, vocations, economic situations, regions, skin colors, and hair types. We talked about various themes, including: how they view different forms of racism; the process of racial identity; the beauty ideals of black people; and their experiences with hair, hairdressers, perms, and other products. I am so grateful to all of the women who participated in and supported me throughout this project. They shared their food, their homes, their time, and above all, their truths.
Through this herstory I realized that hair is a site of happiness and pain, community and independence, oppression, and liberty. I would like all black women to know that we are beautiful as we are. Our natural state is not "broken" and doesn't need to be automatically "fixed." Our hair, our skin colors, our features don't need to be changed for anything or anyone.
In this project I use hair as a window through which I analyze racial identity and the position of black women in Cuban society. With these photos and interviews, I hope that the women in my project can illuminate their own stories and awaken some people that still don't know what significance the hair of black Cubanas holds, those who don't know that hair tells a grand tale.
The film is set in El Vedado, in La Ciudad de La Habana in the spring of 2009. Fifty years after the Revolution, it looks at the life of a family living at a time of political change and controversy. Set against the backdrop of the housing crisis in La Habana, and strictly regulated emigration laws, the film tries to make sense of the poetics of space presented in this decadent and decaying city of desires.
Filmed entirely in La Habana, the movie follows Maylin, a young woman of 25, as she makes her way through life, completing her degree at La Universidad de La Habana, trying to break free of the social conventions and political restrictions that limit her will to create a new way of life.
I came to Cuba to study human relationships with the natural world. The questions guiding my work were "How do we define nature? How do we view ourselves as separate or within the 'nature' context? How can we communicate with what might seem separate, like the plant world? What are some of the distinctive features of city life and the context of 'nature' found within the city? How might the distinctive geography of Cuba influence its people?"
These questions were developed and addressed in conversations and interviews; in trips to Pinar del R'o and an excursion to Trinidad; in reading Cuban literature and viewing Cuban art; and in walks down the streets of Havana observing flowers crawling over the fences and soda cans ringing down the street. In my work I use a combination of personal experiences, research, and the voices of the interviews. The end product is a series of essays centered around caves, plants, the island, and the blurring separation between ourselves as humans and the natural world.
The family unit is typically entwined prominently in one's lived experience—it is felt every day, if only through what seem to be mundane interactions and habits. I came to Cuba to study characteristics of the Cuban family. As it turned out, through my time in Cuba, I ended up not only learning about gender relations in the family unit, the celebration of the quinceañera, and the topic of migration within the family, but also interrogating my own conceptions of what 'family' means to me. I concluded with, through my study of the three themes, seeing 'family' as not just an idle space in which people carry out their individual stories, but as a dynamic unit in and of itself, creating out of tensions and paradoxes new meanings.
Architecture is a part of visual culture that has always interested me. Not only does it change from region to region, but also, it holds within it the ability to speak about a society from a variety of different angles—culturally, religiously, economically, and so on. It is a piece of culture that is always present and always telling; even the absence of architecture is a statement about a society. The type of architecture I believe to be the most revealing about a society is the house. These structures are built for the people, not the state, and develop into their own entity, along with the family who lives within it.
This body of work focuses on the juxtaposition between the architecture of the Cuban home and the Cuban family that resides within it. The project began after noting the prominence of gates and ironwork that surround the houses throughout Havana. These gates create an environment of protection, and serve primarily to enclose, and separate living space from the public space of the street. They form part of what we might call an "architecture of inequality" that has emerged in wake of the scarcity and uncertainty that marked the economic crisis of the 1990's. As my project evolved, many of my prints began to be based around conversations I had with some Cuban friends. They told me that, although they like the sense of protection the gates give them, they can't help but feel trapped within their own homes. I understand this is only one point of view and does not speak for the whole country, but it still alludes to the constant state of protection that surrounds the Cuban home today.
My work, which is primarily done in woodcut, has elements of design pulled from the gates surrounding homes in Havana (specifically the municipality of Vedado), as well as figurative images. The images of anatomy are used to represent an entire community that is too diverse to place facial features to.
The concept of "identity" is complex and dependent on the viewpoint of those who are asked to articulate it. This project is based on neighborhood identity. It is rooted in the premise that perhaps the best way to understand contemporary Cuba is to break the island down, and then break this city of Havana down, and ask those who live and work in particular barrios to articulate their concept of personal and communal identity; to ask them to articulate the processes of construction and negotiation of identity within the context of the barrios in which they live, and within 21st century revolutionary Cuba in general. I have focused on two specific neighborhoods (barrios), which, while both are within La Ciudad de Habana, are geographically separated and historically independent: Cayo Hueso, in Centro Habana, and Pogolotti, located to the west of the city center in municipality of Marianao.
The project has taken form as one piece of writing built on historical research, personal experience, and interviews with various members of the communities discussed. The piece is broken into chapters that while are all bound by the themes of identity negotiation and community identity in the context of the revolution today, deal also with the topics of tourism, religion, as well as historical and contemporary perceptions of Cuba in the United States and the use of metaphor. The piece is written in a somewhat creative-writing style and beyond discussions of Cuba attempts to engage with and discuss the reality of writing about Cuba as a U.S. citizen and my position as a writer in that context.
My documentary film, which is a collaboration with another young filmmaker named Luis Enrique Benitez, is a portrait of the lives of the people in La Cienaga de Zapata. The film captures their daily activities and documents the ways in which they live in a very poor, isolated, rural environment. Most of the people in the little town of Pálpite, where we stayed during the making of the film, make their living either by making charcoal or fishing for catfish.
There are four interviewees in the film: Dunia, a young mother struggling with the difficulty of being deaf and raising her son; an old carbonero who describes the changes he has experienced in his life making charcoal before and after the Revolution; "El Abuelo," who describes the process of raising animals and producing fruit with a cooperative, and Mar'a, a young woman with heart problems.
Making this film was a great chance for me to get to know the countryside here in Cuba; I feel fortunate to have built a relationship with various families there. They did everything they could to welcome us into their community, and truly opened their homes and their hearts to us. For this reason the film is called "The Heart of La Cienaga."