Looking Aside

/ 25 November, 2016

Undjetzt (¿Y ahora qué? –And Now What?) was not only one of the most attractive and original exhibitions of Photo España 2016 in Madrid, but also had the virtue to reveal some essential keys of the artistic talent of one of the most representative Cuban photographers today, José Alberto Figueroa.

Although he was not present on the fall of the Berlin wall on November 1989, Figueroa moved to the GDR on June-July 1990 because of the presentation of the last Cuban exhibition in that country that was about to disappear. On March 1990 there had been elections that gave a solid victory to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, supporter of the immediate integration of the German Federal Republic. Being precisely in Berlin, Figueroa spends on some wines on a terrace the last East German marks of a national currency which is eliminated and replaced by the Deutsche Mark. On October 1990, Germany was already reunified.

Figueroa could not move to the western zone because of lacking a visa. His photographs were focused in what remained of the Wall, partially destroyed, and always from the perspective of the East. These images offered a reflection on the imminent disappearance of the GDR, on the sense that the communist experience of the country had had during the past forty years and on the unknown elements that surrounded the future of the Eastern Bloc, in general, and especially in Cuba. And Now What?

After the series presented this year in Madrid, Figueroa gave the definitive step from documentary photography to photographic conceptualism.

The photos, marked by desolation and melancholy, approaches some minimalist sceneries, dominated by a lonely, destroyed, abandoned, useless wall, with pointless towers of vigilance—in line, many times, with the generation coming from the ISA (High Art Institute) which began to make a critical work towards the end of the 1980s, as Los Carpinteros, Carlos Garaicoa…—, abandoned firing ranges, stores out of supplies with antiquated articles, western consumption products which began to invade the space. Very few persons in the photos, prevail in them, as curator Cristina Vives points out, loneliness, pain, curiosity, fear—that fear Cubans understand so well—, audacity…

And Now What? In the GDR it is clear that this Perestroika appearing in the photo of a metro station in Paris, called Stalingrad, is discarded: it is pure and hard capitalism which is triumphing. The population has clearly opted for it. They knew very well, through the television and the western occidental communication media, which was the working-class living standard on the other side of the Wall and they have thrown themselves to that part of the country. The inauguration of Figueroa’s exhibition in the GDR had a minimal attendance of the audience because, as the photographer says: the main part of the audience is on the other side. (…)

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