Cuba: Detrás del Bloqueo Examines Cuban Life and Culture

September 27, 2019 | By Drefnie R. Limprevil

Northeastern University’s Gallery 360 is currently showcasing a new exhibit, Cuba: Detrás del Bloqueo/Behind the Blockade, which features the combined work of the 2019 photography Dialogue of Civilizations, "Cuba y la Fotografía," led by Professor Luis Brens, with that of two journalism programs led by Professor Carlene Hempel. The exhibit combines visual components with the written word to address different topics affecting Cuban life, including the impact of Cuban-American relations. Through the work, the exhibit discusses the nature of Cuban people, the pace of change, and the importance of culture in the country.

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Photo Courtesy of Northeastern University College of Arts, Media, and Design

Throughout the exhibit, the theme of American influence shines through. The first story excerpt was written by Story Hinckley about the "Pedro Pans,"  who were unaccompanied Cuban children allowed into the United States to flee the Fidel Castro regime. The article interviews some of these children, now adults, and allows the viewer to begin to understand the ongoing personal impact of U.S. policy for Cubans. Continuing through the exhibit, a story by Riley Robinson highlights an exchange program between American and Cuban ballet schools. The article tells the story of young adults from different cultures bonded through the experience of dance and the hardships inside and outside the classroom. Another story, witten by Alejandro Castro-Fernandez, discusses Cubans' perspective on Americans, and how it is rarely associated with their views on U.S. politics. In the bottom right corner of each article excerpt is a QR code that allow visitors to read the full story.


The photos shown also present a message of their own. The images were mixed together and all focused around Cuban people engaging in the activities of everyday life. Two photos, one taken by Jessica Salmon and another by Christopher Mirabella, show children preparing for a dance recital and children playing, respectively. These photos contrast the hardship experienced in the story with hope for the next generation of Cuban children.


One important aspect the exhibit strives to show is the openness of the Cuban people. Jonathan Mejia, one of the students who attended the journalism program, expressed how he loved reporting in Cuba because of the people he met. "There's no animosity there… The Cubans are just loving people," said Mejia, referring to the relationship he fostered with his interview subjects.  


The exhibit also manages to provide an inside look into the slow pace of change Cuba has experienced since the start of the Castro regime in the 1960s. Professor Carlene Hempel, the head of the two journalism programs, cited this as a motivating factor for her organizing her first trip in 2018. She expressed that she rushed to report on the country before Obama-era reforms changed its landscape. During the presidency of Donald Trump, however, she found that the program reported on the resilience of the Cuban people rather than the fast-paced change she initially expected. Though the return to hostile relations is discouraging to the Cuban people, the resilience of the country is evident throughout every photo and article showcased.


The exhibit puts forth the importance of art, not only as a cultural tool, but also as one for education and resilience. Douglas Stevens Jr., a TA for the photography program, emphasized the importance of art to the Cuban people. "It's a part of everyday life, it's the heartbeat of culture down there," he said, noting that not everything seen and read about Cuba through the American media is accurate. "It's something special to take someone from a different culture and open up their eyes to a different world." 


The exhibit takes a bit of that experience and brings it to the visitor here in Boston. One attendee, Northeastern student Raj Mocherla, attributed him visiting the exhibit to a desire to see what the day-to-day life of everyday Cubans looked like. He described the experience at the exhibit as, "a good way of breaking down what you think," as he examined a wall full of bright photos featuring the various portraits and street photography. 


Through its impactful stories and memorable photographs, the exhibit is powerful in transforming the image of Cuba in the eyes of Americans who have been taught a particular perspective of the country. The exhibit offers a new perspective on Cuba, one that is bright and promising. It challenges the viewer to reconsider their traditional worldview as shaped by schooling and the media. In the words of Professor Hempel, the exhibit tells "the true powerful stories" of the country and its people. 


The exhibit is currently will be on display at Gallery 360 until the end of September.