Memory in Images

An Approximation to Cuban Photography

/ 1 December, 2018

The first photographic camera got to Havana in April 1840, just a few months after Louis J. Mandé Daguerre had registered his invention capable of setting an image taken from the natural on a silver surface (…).A while later many foreign photographers continuously arrived, seduced by the urban and rural surroundings of the territory and by its favorable geographic location, synonymous to prosperity. The most audacious Cubans would soon be initiated in the command of the technique giving rise to the rich visual tradition that up until our days makes up the photographic art already about to celebrate 180 years of existence in Cuba. Therefore, any endeavor to contribute to the knowledge of this manifestation, from its indelible past up to its future projection independently of the field of study, is always a satisfaction. In this sense the exhibit La imagen sin límites. Exposición antológica de fotografía cubana (The Limitless Image. Anthological Exposition of Cuban Photography) in one of the transitory halls of the National Museum of Fine Arts (MNBA – Cuban Art Building) is one of the many contributions to revitalize our history through the photographic iconography.

Curated by Rafael Acosta de Arriba[1], an outstanding researcher and essayist on artistic and cultural subjects, the exhibit includes a total of 100 snapshots as a result of a rigorous selection of 50 creators. (…) It’s difficult to please a knowledgeable and demanding public, which is why its curator opted for establishing a well-defined anthology based on significant names and works whose symbolism in the majority of cases have surpassed the borders of the private to make them acknowledged, even on a world scale. Questionings of some type will always exist, perhaps in La imagen sin límites… some artists of vital importance will be obviated or newer and not so well-known pieces of those present could be chosen. In any case this is explicit in what Rafael wrote for the catalog[2] of the exposition, which in addition gives solid criteria that validate his proposal using concrete examples.

These turning points, that is to say, the insertion of other photographers and the classification of less iconic images together with those he mentions in the respective annexes “Mujeres fotógrafas en la historia de la fotografía cubana” (Women Photographers in the History of Cuban Photography); “Fotógrafos extranjeros de reconocimiento que han trabajado en Cuba” (Renowned Foreign Photographers Who Have Worked in Cuba) and “Algunos antecedentes importantes sucedidos en el panorama de la fotografía en Cuba desde 1983 a la fecha” (Some Important Antecedents that Have Occurred in the Panorama of Photography in Cuba from 1983 to Date), establish possible principles that will give rise to future curatorships, each one with a different scheme although logical-structural-common within the wide horizon that the art of the lens has in our country.

Seen thus, the basis on which La imagen sin límites… is organized, along with its historic lineal progression that discovers other aspects of the poetics of its exponents, many of these ideas start serving as the basis for famous series and also valid essays. Even today they are a pattern that personalizes them.

The diverse themes, from the individual and collective memory, to the intrinsic local customs of what is Cuban perceived in dances, creeds, religions, race, satire, to the discourse of the body in its gender-erotic conception and praxis manifest in the nude, to the migratory crisis (of the rafters), to the national sentiment based on symbols and leaders of the Revolution, and why not, to the criticism of what is thought incorrect with the objective of achieving a better society, are fundamental keys in the nation’s evolution. (…)


[1] Con un doble doctorado, primero en Ciencias Históricas y luego en Ciencias sobre Arte, también ejerce la crítica de arte. Ha recibido premios y reconocimientos, entre ellos el Premio Anual de Investigaciones del Ministerio de Cultura en cuatro ocasiones y el Premio Nacional de Crítica de Arte Guy Pérez Cisneros. Tiene en su haber varios libros publicados.

[2] Cfr. Rafael Acosta de Arriba: “Fotografía e historia en Cuba, la isla de las imágenes”, en La imagen sin límites. Exposición antológica de fotografía cubana. (Catálogo), Collage Ediciones, La Habana, 2018, pp. 21-31.

Alain Cabrera

Alain Cabrera

(Havana, 1980) Graduate in Art History from the Faculty of Arts and Letters at the University of Havana in 2008. From then until now he serves as editor of the magazine Artecubano, art critic and photographer. His writings have been published in national and international publications including Artecubano magazine, the tabloid Noticias de Artecubano and the critics’ website Saloncritik (created by José Luis Brea).

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