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Cubanismo - Capital Culture

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

AN EXHIBITION of black and white fine art photographs of Cuba from the 1930s to the modern day, Cubanismo: The Origins of the Cuban Spirit, will be on display at Capital Culture from September 27 to November 3, 2007.

There is a story that in the early days of the Revolution, Fidel Castro stopped a young volunteer and asked whether it was true that he had been a photographer before joining the rebels in the Sierra Maestra mountains. When the young man nodded, Castro told him to put down his gun and get his camera, as that was the weapon that would win them the real battles ahead.

And there’s no doubt that the iconic images of revolutionaries in their jungle camps did much to help romanticize their cause. In particular, a certain image of Che Guevara’s proud profile was soon to adorn the walls of leftist students around the world.

Photography did, in fact, play a central role in the 20th century development of Cuba. The contrasting images on display provide an insight into the island and its political history – an insight that often evades the many tourists who visit the island each year to enjoy the cigars and mojitos while watching a Caribbean sunset.

The photographers include Arturo Martinez Illa, Ernesto Fernandez and Laura Portilla, a young artist whose most recent work 3 Mil Silencios (3 Thousand Silences) graphically documents the jail in which Castro and his compatriots were held in the early 1950s, before he was sent into exile.

Arturo Martinez Illa ran a photographic studio in the town of Caibarien on the northern coast of Cuba during the 1930s. His work revolved around taking portraits of proud individuals, jazz bands and local sports teams; while for pleasure, he seems to have enjoyed capturing the atmosphere of town fiestas or the beach at weekends.

Few of his images have survived and despite his fame at the time, his work has been all but forgotten. However, a small selection of 30 glass negatives were recently discovered. These pictures, which have not been printed for 70 years, provide a wonderful insight into Cuba before the Revolution.

Ernesto Fernandez is one of the four great photographers of the Revolutionary period of Cuba. Alongside Korda, Salas and Corrales, Fernandez documented the heady days of the Triumph of the Revolution and continued to photograph Castro, Guevara and other leading lights of the new system, including some wonderfully intimate studies of Alicia Alonso, Cuba’s greatest ballerina. He continues to photograph Cuba and to teach a new generation of artists.

Capital Cultura, 3 Bedfordbury, Covent Garden, WC2N 4BP.

Times: Monday to Friday – 11am to 6pm; Saturday – 1pm to 5pm. (Other times by appointment).

Admission: Free.

The exhibition precedes the 2008 Cuban Cultural Festival planned for May.