Photography exhibition, by creator Roberto Chile, remains open to the public until mid February at the Collage Habana Gallery in the Cuban capital and Cubasi talked exclusively with the artist.
Chile’s look is neither folkloristic, nor scientific nor is it halfway between one or the other, “Somos” (We are) is a clearly human look. There’s a clear faith in these photos, I do not know if it is in the deities, divinities, priesthoods or cults they reflect, but I certainly see faith in the people here, in those people who opened to me the doors of their homes, their beliefs and their faces, which are, any Cuban knows so, the reflection of the soul…
The author does not need many presentations, photographer and audiovisual creator, with the sharp lens of someone who has documented part of the history of this country; Chile speaks with the simplicity of someone who tirelessly serves a vocation in two words: art and Cuba.
¿Quiénes Somos? (Who are We?) The title of this exhibition is a personal pronoun, who does it refer to?
Academician Jesus Guanche answers this question in his introductory words to the catalog in editing process: “…. The exhibition symbolically evokes the start or end of Palo Monte rites, one of the oldest popular religious expressions in Cuba, where Tata Nganga (a Yoruba ritual practitioner) asks: Are we or aren’t we? And those accompanying him answer with full confidence and certainty: WE ARE!
The exhibit is as diverse as the range of Afro-Cuban traditions and cults, but what would be the message, the idea you have proposed to link with all of them?
My proposal is clear. “Somos”, like its predecessor “Raíces, magia y mística” (Roots, magic and mystics), is a re-encounter with our African roots, a journey to the spiritual paradise of African natives and their descendants, visual offer born from my soul and my heart.
It’s dedicated to Enrique Hernandez Armenteros, Enriquito from La Hata, Bantu priest, who consecrated himself in the four religious manifestations of African origin. Native from Encrucijada and settled in La Hata, Guanabacoa, from his youth until the final days of his life. Unfortunately, he could not be among us that day, because he died on February 19, when he was about to reach a century of life.
You are a deeply revolutionary Cuban and follower of Fidel, how does that condition interact with your interest for our African roots and how does it influence your personal stances on negritude and discrimination?
This exhibition is a hug to those who do not believe in races, those who think as Jose Marti that “man is more than white, more than mulatto, more than black”, and at the same time a punch to those who mistakenly consider there are men and women inferior to others for the color of their skin.
You have photographed realities that are usually quite hermetic, how did you manage to open the doors of the temples, cults and souls, as you have said yourself?
Should simplicity, honesty and sincerity are veritable, they manage to open all doors and should it is about kind and generous people like those who I have photographed in dissimilar sites in Cuba, from East to West, there is no room for secrecy. They know what can be photographed or not. So do I. Should you act with ethics, respect their faith and are filled with love, everything flows and you can achieve what you would find impossible to achieve if you use force or falsehood. That’s why, they opened the doors of their homes, their temples and their souls to me, and I thank all ordinary people, santeros, paleros, babalawos and abacuas (Afro-Cuban religious practitioners) for the confidence and the shelter they have given me.
Will there be other editions of this collection? What new spaces do you still have to inquire into this topic? What other zones of the country?
I cannot predict it, but I can assure you that I will continue to work, that I will not leave this path, because it is a path that has heart.
It all began in Guanabacoa, then I went to other sites of the city: Regla, Cerro, Marianao, Centro Habana, among others. Later, I went beyond the limits of the capital and toured Orozco, Matanzas, Cárdenas, Jagüey Grande, Perico, Agramonte, Palmira, Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba… There is a lot left to tour: Remedios, Sagua la Grande, Cruces, Santa Isabel de las Lajas, and other sites of the country, where there is a strong influence of our African roots. In short, it’s a long, hazardous path that will remain dormant in my compass.
Translated by Jorge Mesa Benjamin / Cubasi Translation Staff