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CUBA IN TRANSITION

CUBA IN TRANSITION

Cuba In Transition is an ongoing series of 18 large-scale photomosaic murals, audio interviews, and field recordings created on 3 trips by the artist to Santiago de Cuba, Baracoa, Havana, Viñales, Cienfuegos and Trinidad de Cuba shortly before President Obama's landmark trip in March 2016 and most recently in February 2017 after the death of Fidel Castro.

Each mosaic is between 5 and 15 feet wide and is handmade by taping together hundreds, sometimes thousands, of 4x6" photographs, taken from different angles. Neither a computer nor Photoshop is used. A slow, painstaking, and antiquated method, they are the product of synchronistic events, deep conversations and personal relationships. Culled from dozens of audio interviews conducted in Spanish, diverse voices and perspectives reveal the inner worlds of everyday Cubans. Set to a soundtrack of instrumental Cuban music, this project creates a welcoming space for conversations about some of the most salient issues of our time.

An homage to the people of Cuba, the exhibition opened at A.P.E. Gallery in Northampton, Mass in June 2017 to widespread critical and public acclaim with a dozen press features and over 3,500 visitors in 21 days before traveling to New England's largest Latinx cultural center Villa Victoria Center for the Arts in Boston in fall 2017, Colorado's Loveland Museum in summer 2018, Williston's Grubbs Gallery in fall 2018, and Deerfield Academy's von Auersperg Gallery where it runs until March 1, 2019.

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Che 2016 Photomosaic 42x54 inches

Eighty smaller square 6x6" photo-mosaics. Each took between 1 and 3 hours to create. A mash-up of Alberto Korda's iconic image with Chuck Close's method, only I use photo-mosaic instead of paint. Father of the Cuban revolution, constructed by hand with thousands of patchwork images of Cuba today, revealing a complex legacy.

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Bucanero en Playa Ancón | Buccaneer at Ancón Beach
Trinidad de Cuba 2017 Photomosaic 46x68 inches

He wandered by me silently, an elderly man collecting cans, invisible on a beach of sunbathing tourists. He'd retired from a job at the hotel, cleaning the beach where I met him. He needed to supplement his meager pension so he could buy meat, coffee, and milk. 100 cans earned him 40 cents. His wife of many years lived eight hours away by car. Stricken with Parkinson’s disease, it was hard for them to speak because she couldn’t hold the phone. Gracious, peaceful, and warm, he called me “hijo” (son) and told me “No government is good,” before hurrying off to catch the last bus home. Watch the making of this piece from start to finish here.

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Nena la del Valle de los Ingenios Abajo | Nena from the Bottom of Sugar Mill Valley
Trinidad de Cuba 2017 Photomosaic 46x68 inches

I met Nena deep in the Valley of the Sugar Mills, a few miles from Trinidad, Cuba. We spent 2 wonderful days together talking. Inaccessible by car, I traveled there on horseback with my trusty guide Manolo, 90 minutes into the Cuban outback. She said I was the first tourist to visit her in 60 years. Nena worked cutting sugarcane as a teen for $10 a month before a friend lent her money to start her own livestock business raising and selling turkeys and goats for meat to local Cubans, which she’s done from her farm for over 6 decades. Here she is in front of her kitchen surrounded by the abundance of her labor.

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La Familia Sánchez en Casa | The Sánchez Family at Home Santiago de Cuba 2015 Photomosaic 44x137 inches

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El Malécon Havana 2017 Photomosaic 57x172 inches

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El Coche Verde | The Green Car Old Havana 2016 Photomosaic 68x94 inches

I happened upon this scene in Habana Vieja. A solitary man, without parts, without tools, reviving his car. Progress was glacial, but evident. Everyone focuses on the shiny old cars. But they all start here. He said the engine is an '82 Toyota, the body a late 50s American model. Classic Cuban ingenuity.

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Yosnel en Valle de Viñales | Yosnel in Viñales Valley 2016 Photomosaic 36x128 inches

We rode with Yosnel for 5 hours, galloping, bodies in unison, flying through the Cuban outback, pounding the dirt, slicing through space.

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Las Damas de Noche | The Ladies at Night Santiago de Cuba 2015 Photomosaic 54x59 inches

I met them out salsa dancing, amidst the simmering nights of Santiago in summer. Educated, forward-looking, and worldly, despite never leaving the island, they represent the next generation of Cubans, all born long after the Revolution. They shared decidedly different views of life in their country.

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El Asado de Cerdo | The Pig Roast Santiago de Cuba 2015 Photomosaic 38x75 inches

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Escuela Primaria Guerrillero Heroico | Heroic Guerrilla Elementary School Cienfuegos 2017 Photomosaic 69x142 inches

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Callejón de Hamel Havana 2016 Photomosaic 36x132 inches

Every Sunday this block rocks to the rumba rhythms. Closed off to traffic and surrounded by hundreds of feet of building-high murals by Cuban artist Salvador Gonzáles Escalon, it's the perfect place to get lost in the power and soulful beauty of Afro-Cuban culture.

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La Familia Lucero | The Lucero Family Santiago de Cuba 2015 Photomosaic 48x86 inches

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El Pintor Lincoln Camué | The Painter Lincoln Camué Santiago de Cuba 2015 Photomosaic 50x94 inches

Portraits of Afro-Cuban women in a store-front window caught my eye. As I approached, a voice beckoned me in. It was Lincoln Camué (82), the renowned painter and this was his studio, a room at the front of his home. We talked for an hour, connecting as artists. I returned a week later to chat some more. This piece is now the cover of a psychology textbook. View it here.

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El Vendedor de Verduras | The Vegetable Seller Santiago de Cuba 2016 Photomosaic 40x73 inches

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Patria es Revolucion | Homeland is Revolution Viñales 2016 Photomosaic 44x142 inches

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Yordany y La Lavandería | Yordany and the Laundry Viñales 2016 Photomosaic 49x67 inches

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La Tiendita | The Corner Store Santiago de Cuba 2016 Photomosaic 45x75 inches

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El Puto | The Gigolo Viñales 2016 Photomosaic 38x181 inches

Why Cuba? Because it’s always captured my imagination. Because it celebrates its African and Indigenous roots in so many ways. Because the musical talent is astounding, the clave beat bouncing off Spanish tile roof tops. Because its rivers and oceans are pristine. Because it’s so full of heart and soul, and people look out for each other. I could go on. Because it’s Caribbean yin to American yang. Because I’m a salsero and dancing is a national pastime. Because joy is abundant, despite dramatic material shortages and palpable suffering. Because I’m a southern Italian New Yorker and it feels like home, like Sundays at grandma’s, so nourishing, so complete. Cuba is an abandoned way of life, like Sicily fifty years ago, brimming with simple pleasures, accidental adventures and profound human connection. But really, because my friends were organizing a trip so I went. And this is what happened.