CUJAE University (interior), Havana
Why I decided to complete the series “I am Cuba”
My relationship with photography has evolved over time but has always gone hand in hand with my need to explore and discover this world. After receiving a degree in Fine Art History, Political Science and Spanish at the University of Toronto, I spent years living in both Europe and Asia and have further continued travelling to over fifty countries. I was born and grew up in the Soviet Union, a part of my past that propelled me to explore all the remaining communist countries including North Korean, China, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba.
Visiting Cuba, I felt deeply connected to their struggle and experience. It is the only country in the world that bears the scars of 500 years of occupation and has survived Spanish Colonialism, slavery, American occupation, several brutal dictatorships, various revolutions and of course a communist regime that is still ongoing. My family history of living through and surviving the breakdown of the Soviet Union made me fascinated by and deeply linked to the country’s turbulent and highly emotional past.
Why are you bringing this show to the Canadian public?
When I visited Cuba, I was amazed at the incredible diversity of the remaining architecture. Walking through the streets of Havana or driving by some of the previously-wealthy waterfront towns felt like being transported to particular moments in time. I was hit over the head with how architectural remnants could be used for me to piece together a fascinating timeline of not only political but social and ideological progress and development. Architecture is a way for us to see society’s choices. In Toronto, like in any other Canadian city, this is just as relevant. Our remaining iconic infrastructure and buildings are quickly being overtaken by massive condominiums and high-rise office towers. Toronto has the same ongoing question of what’s next to come. It seems we are so eager to move ahead – but at what cost? What are these changes to Toronto’s, and Canada’s infrastructural landscape really telling us?
We’d like to know why architecture specifically was the driving force?
We often look at architecture as a utilitarian requirement, something that we simply need in order to exist. Yet, for me, architecture is truly one of the highest art forms. It is the only art form that not only exists in such large scales but most importantly, the only one truly available to the public. It is art for all people. Perhaps this is why during the time of the Revolution and the rise of Communism, when all other art was banned, architecture was all they had left. Expression through architecture was the only artistic outlet available.
What is next for Cuba?
The climate in Cuba right now is highly uncertain yet optimistic. The country has opened itself up and it seems like it’s quite an exciting period of time - people are patiently waiting to see what’s in store for them next. Through my series, the viewer is not only provided with a deeper understanding of each construction and its connection to the time, but is also left with a lingering question of what the future holds in store next for Cuba? Fidel Castro said to his wife when introduced to her for the first time, “I am Cuba”. Two years after Fidel Castro’s death, we are still waiting to see what the future holds for the incredible island.
Tell us about some of your experiences taking these photos?
I think some of the stories would likely shock a lot of people! There is not much I wouldn’t do to the get the photo I want. In Cuba, everything seems to be difficult, whether it’s getting a permit to gain access into a building or even being allowed to take photos from the outside. In order to get some of the shots of the Juguara nuclear power plant, for example, I broke into the property, ran away from security and ended up in a police station!