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‘My people, from above and afar': Havana in photos

‘My people seen from above and afar.’ Photo: Juan-Sí González, from the series In Door/Close Up, 2020.

Text and photos by Juan-Sí González for Periodismo de Barrio, republished by Global Voices.

After several years, I returned to Havana in 2020. We rented a house in Old Havana and invited all the family to spend a week together. I had also been invited by INSTAR (Instituto Internacional de Artivismo Hannah Arendt) to give an audiovisual presentation on the work carried out by the Art-De (arts and rights) group in the 80s and on my previous work while in exile. I arrived with my wife and daughter on January 31.  

During the days of my short stay, I took a series of photos; these photos are marked as a BEFORE and an AFTER.

Those photos taken BEFORE are close up. They belong to those first days when I could go out in the mornings, wandering the streets of Havana and breathing in my old city. During those days I followed the same routine, documenting it in order to better recognize and find my way around the city streets. I recorded the inside and outside of buildings that awakened my memory, trying to create an updated testimony of places that felt familiar to me. 

However, on February 5 everything changed. On the way home from my walk, I went for a coffee in the Hotel Plaza. Suddenly, two people came over and sat down at either side of my table; they were plainclothes agents. They told me that they had come to warn me about my presentation at INSTAR. One of them pulled out a pack of H. Upmann cigars from his pocket and placed it on the table next to my Marlboros. Passing a cigar to the other agent then lighting his own, he said that they had been watching me photograph rubbish dumps and crappy areas of the city. “Why? What for?” he asked me. 

Then, after a long and unpleasant exchange, they left.

The next day, just hours before my presentation, I knew that I could not go outside under any circumstances, until the day of my departure from Cuba.

The AFTER photos were taken from afar, and the people in the streets are shown from above. These photos belong to the last few days of my stay, after being banned from going out and taking photos in public. These photos were taken in secret, from inside, from the balcony, and from the rooftop of that unforgettable house. 

A long waiting time. Photo: Juan-Sí González, from the series In Door/Close Up, 2020.

Building façade, walking around the city. Photo: Juan-Sí González, from the series In Door/Close Up, 2020.

Interior, walking around the city. Photo: Juan-Sí González, from the series In Door/Close Up, 2020.

Interior, walking around the city. Photo: Juan-Sí González, from the series In Door/Close Up, 2020.

Interior, walking around the city. Photo: Juan-Sí González, from the series In Door/Close Up, 2020.

Interior, a long waiting time. Photo: Juan-Sí González, from the series In Door/Close Up, 2020.

My people seen from above and afar. Photo: Juan-Sí González, from the series In Door/Close Up, 2020.

My people seen from above and afar. Photo: Juan-Sí González, from the series In Door/Close Up, 2020.

My people seen from above and afar. Photo: Juan-Sí González, from the series In Door/Close Up, 2020.

My people seen from above and afar. Photo: Juan-Sí González, from the series In Door/Close Up, 2020.

My people seen from above and afar. Photo: Juan-Sí González, from the series In Door/Close Up, 2020.

My people seen from above and afar. Photo: Juan-Sí González, from the series In Door/Close Up, 2020.

Juan-Sí González was born in Santiago de Cuba (1959). He studied at the University of Arts in Havana (ISA) and was selected to participate in the second Havana Biennial. In 1987 he co-founded the group Art-De (art and rights) and started to carry out street-level interventions in Havana. He has been living in Ohio since 2003, where he has received three prizes for excellence in his work at Ohio Arts Council, as well as residencies at art centres and universities. He was chosen to participate in The Bronx Latin American Art Biennial, NY; El Museo del Barrio Biennial, NY and the FotoFocus Biennial in Ohio. His work has been displayed in The Frost Art Museum, Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, Museum of Latin American Art, Indiana Museum of Art, Museo Carrrillo Gil, The Instituto Tomie Ohtake, Lima Centro de la imagen, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Virreina Palace and the Pompidou Centre, among others. His work can be found in both public and private collections. 

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