Recently, good friend and curator Anne Huntington headed down to Michael Dweck's opening for Habana Libre at Fototeca de Cuba Museum in Havana. She has shared some details with me about Friday's historic event. A beautiful, elegant, and sophisticated crowd, guests flew in from Paris, Milan, London and NYC for the event, which initially expected only 400-500 people, but 2,300 attended––a record for the museum. Celeb chef, Sarah Saunders flew in from London to cater the opening, which included the likes of the Swedish, Spanish, and French ambassadors, Cuban Cultural Ministers, and artists Alex Castro and Camilo Guevara (sons of Fidel and Che). During his remarks, Michael Dweck announced that he is donating all the 90 photographs valued over $500,000 to Fototeca de Cuba Museum and the Cuban people. The medium is unique, one Michael Dweck developed - wax toner on craft paper, the works retail from between $8,000 to $40,000.
Dweck’s personal exploration of this “creative class in a classless society” is the basis of the exhibition opening February 24th at Fototeca de Cuba and the foundation of his third published work Michael Dweck: Habana Libre (Damiani editore).
“Habana Libre is a story of seduction suggested but never told,” Dweck said. “It explores the paradoxical allegory of a worldly paradise surrounded by a reality that is manageable, but definitely lacking any divine traits – the threats besetting it from outside parties and inside hierarchies, its relationship to the less fortunate. But it also pokes an eye into everyday Cuban life and asks subject and audience (Cuban and American, respectively) to question whether the things we’ve been told about one another are true.” Underscoring the personal and political themes of the black-and-white photographs is a sensual and provocative current with the sexy and hypnotic visual rhythms for which Dweck has come to be known. In the book, interviews by William Westbrook further extrapolate the themes surrounding this underground intelligentsia that will define the country’s next generation. In the exhibition, the same images are to be presented in greater scale using an unconventional paper and special printing technique that were created especially for the exhibition and will be revealed for the first time at the opening. “I love the way the book displays the photographs, but as I’ve been given the honor of being one of the first living American artists to exhibit in Cuba, I felt I had to present something additional as a show of respect and gratitude,” Dweck said. “The unique motif is meant to honor the beauty of the island's past, reflect the heat of the people and serves as a reflection of their spirit, their future, their potential. Day-in and day-out, Cubans are preserving much more than the metal of old cars. They’re preserving a lost way of life and I want to pay tribute to that in a small way.”
Also honored in Dweck’s photographs are the artists of the farandula’s sophisticated and socially connected circle: Kelvis Ochoa, Musician; Rene Francisco, Painter; Yaday Ponce Toscano, Dancer; Rachel Valdez, Painter; Carlos Quintana, Painter; Leonardo Padura, Novelist; Francis de Rio, Musician.(The book also features the images and words of the never-before photographed or interviewed sons of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, both photographers in their own right.)
Together this group is sensual and warm and romantically intertwined, yet simultaneously public and private, open yet complex: They have cars and passports, and travel freely. They are fashionable, though there are few stores and no magazines. They exude a sense of joy and hope in a country dogged by cliché press images of crumbling buildings, peeling paint and a struggling, unhappy populace held back from progress. “Cubans in general juggle that duality – defiant and humble, tightly-controlled and indefinitely resilient. Their artists are no different. They’re the public face of a private population,” Dweck said. “I want to show that resilience in these photos and, moreover, show that for all its shortcomings, the country Kennedy once called an ‘unhappy island,’ overruns with visceral joy and beauty.”
Dweck’s narrative follows this joy - the pride and flesh of Cuba’s culture. With brush and shutter and clay and chord the artists of Havana put their conscience on record. Their art is their vision of the country and Habana Libre is its interpreter.
The Michael Dweck: Habana Libre exhibition will open at Cuba’s most important photography institution, Fototeca de Cuba in Havana on February 24, 2012 and will continue until March 24, 2012. Prior to the show at Fototeca, the exhibition was shown at Modernism Gallery in San Francisco, Blitz Gallery in Tokyo, Staley Wise Gallery in New York, Izzy Gallery in Toronto and Art Basel in Miami. For more details visit Michael Dweck’s blog habanalibrebook.com.
Michael Dweck: Habana Libre was published by Damiani editore (Italy) and released in the U.S. in October, 2011 and internationally in November, 2011. A collector’s limited edition box set of Michael Dweck: Habana Libre, along with an 8x10 print both signed is also available.
Opening images: Courtesy of Sergio Leyva Seiglie
Photographs from book: Courtesy of Michael Dweck Studio