What in military jargon have been called “extraordinary events” have taken place over the last three years in Havana. We have received with applause the President of the United States, Barack Obama, we have seen from afar a Chanel catwalk show. We have been the highly unlikely scenario of a live Rolling Stones concert. We have discovered the cultural impact of the market.
“Hotel Roma” (2017), is a film influenced by the contact of Chris Marker and Agnés Varda with the Cuba of the 1960s. It’s a private documentation of this impact created by the Cuban artist Leandro Feal. The terrace of the former Hotel Roma, converted into a bar for a year, was frequented by artists, writers, intellectuals, businessmen, state and private millionaires, local and international celebrities, ordinary people and tourists. The effect of the relationship between Leandro’s camera and the location knew how
to ‘cross-dress’ its actors in a kind of sexual and political promiscuity, where everyone consumes something of what they are missing. The conservative was surrounded by liberals, the millionaire by poverty, the tourist tasted the local flavor and the communist experienced dissidence. The texture of his photos in the film has impacted so much in the visuality of other products about Cuba that it’s unclear whether he has cemented or invented the imaginariums that complement contemporary perception of the island. While in “¿Y allá qué hora es? (2015-)” Leandro pursues the modern and cosmopolitan face of Havana through the exodus of Cubans in a selection of international scenes, in “Hotel Roma” he concentrates on a single element of the city to show us the world.
But in the last three years we have also experienced the death and pompous funeral of Fidel Castro, a human being that the “Revolution” believed to be eternal. We’ve seen how Raúl Castro and Donald Trump have undone what Obama and Raúl Castro himself propitiated, and how President Díaz Canel ‘runs over’ Spanish grammar in his new Twitter account, classifying, as if it were still 1943, those “miserable bastards born by mistake in Cuba”. We have fought against Decree 349, a dystopian law whose objective is to curtail the political content of art as a condition of the economic rights of artists.
The bow that tightens the existing string between these two realities is “De la Reforma a la Contrarreforma” (2016), a series of photographs which show, on the one hand, the Chanel catwalk show, the Rolling Stones concert, that’s to say, the public correlation of the hedonist experience of Bar Roma, and on the other, the death of Fidel Castro. The images of this death are a nucleus of important work in their own right, they are also as abundant and extensive as the funeral itself: nine days of mourning, intense processions, prohibition of alcoholic beverages in shops and bars. Beneath the spiky nervousness and the repressive air there was also relief. Faced with the compromised vision of the national cameras Leandro displayed the coldness of a paparazzo. The military clothing kindly naturalized by nationalist propaganda restored its strange hardness. In the face of the honesty of the old communists he displayed the opportunism of political theatre. He sprinkled the military funeral with the festive enthusiasm of the youth that was in attendance.
This event was the trigger that set off the Counter-Reformation. Non-governmental alternatives were the target. A direct consequence of this is a decree such as the 349, which has set alarm bells ringing within the local and international art community. Its preferred legal figure is the contravention and the elite troop that will guarantee the fulfillment of the fateful decree will be the “inspectors”, who will be able to “immediately suspend the spectacle or the projection in question, and propose the cancellation of the authorization in order to exercise self-employment activity, as appropriate.” Ideally, what the 349 seems to say is that artists should dedicate themselves to landscape painting. The corruption and incapacity involved in the exercise of this arbitrary power is enough to classify the inspectors as the real intruders. The police jargon of the section dedicated to inspectors is proof of this: warnings, fines, confiscation of “equipment, accessories and other goods.”
The decree has reinvigorated tension in the Cuban cultural spectrum. The debates that it has raised are evidence of two exclusive languages: one democratic and the other totalitarian. If there’s one thing in common that defines intellectual tradition in Cuba, it’s an agonizing struggle against the mediocrity of context. The continuity of a conservative culture and the cosmopolitan logic of the avant-garde. Leandro Feal’s “El intrusismo del inspector” is the staging of this double meaning, a show to challenge inspectors wherever they are, an exhibition that Decree 349, without any doubt, would have censored.
Abel González Fernández (curator of the exhibition)