“I had dreamed of visiting Cuba since the 1960’s. How amazing it was to finally travel there during the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 2012. Through a People to People Cultural Program, I had the rare opportunity to experience Cuba through a very intimate lens led by Cuban scholars, architects, and artists. They provided a deeper understanding of the island’s natural beauty, the creative spirit and pride of the Cuban people and their rich cultural and political history.”
–Anne “Nan” Fitzpatrick
The ‘Habana Cubana’ series is a visual narrative of my journey to the island of Cuba (October 5- 10, 2012). Ultimately, a bittersweet experience and I never could have anticipated the impact this trip would have on me. I was haunted by the palpable contrast of the county’s tumultuous history in comparison to the people’s warm and joyful demeanor. The island’s natural beauty is so rich in culture despite the disparaging social shifts that communism created within a period of just fifty years. The political upheaval deeply disrupted the financial, cultural and social landscape, leaving much of its once spectacular architecture deteriorating and its people living in poverty. In Havana, one experiences a “ 50’s freeze frame” with restored automobiles, patina palaces, diminished grand hotels, the abandoned casino Riviera and the Tropicana which remain as tarnished reminders of its once glamorous past.
We had the extraordinary privilege to travel with Architects Miguel Coyula, Ayleen Robaina and Mario Coyula, who wrote “Havana has endured many difficult tests in its long history, some apparently terminal, and has come out bruised but graceful. A city that, no longer is, but continues being. Havana forever, forever my Havana.” Mario Coyula’s return to Cuba and his hope for its preservation is a true testament to the passion and devotion the Cuban people have for their home.
In Havana, I participated in studio visits, salons and dinners with artist Sandra Ramos and Eduardo Roca Salazar. Their art work provided yet another insightful lens in which I perceived Cuba. Sandra’s artwork was one of the most impactful aspects of my journey; her poignant art transcends most political views and really inspired me. Curator, Alejandro Alonso, provided tours through the Museum of Fine Arts and the Necropolis of Colon, the third most “important” cemetery internationally, the Instituto Superior de Arte and the iconic art deco homes, palaces and the derelict Hotel Riviera in the Vedado neighborhood. I can still hear the band’s “Latin beat” wafting as the fabulous cars arrived and the glamorous clientele were escorted into the casino "circa 1950" after a show for drinks at the Tropicana, or drinks with celebrities at the Hotel National.
Despite the lack of government support to preserve the city of Havana, the creativity, beauty and pride of the Cuban culture lives within its people. The hospitality, cuisine and mojitos were fantastic. It was truly a privilege to have been included on this trip, especially poignant during such defining times given the elections in the U.S. and the anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. My time spent in Cuba, especially the music and the balmy evenings, will stay in my memory forever.
All photo montages are digitally printed on archival paper