Must-See Exhibit: "Cuba Is" at the Annenberg Space

  Courtesy of the Annenberg Space for Photography.

Courtesy of the Annenberg Space for Photography.

By Sarah Heintz

Images of warmth, poverty, and injustice line the walls of Cuba Is at the Annenberg Space. This exhibit exposes the day-to-day conditions of the isolated communist country. It educates visitors on the country's past history, present conditions, and future possibilities, while revealing how its still-vibrant people manage to enjoy daily life. 

 Photographer Carolina Sandretto captures this tenement, the likes of which are common in Cuba. Several of her photos in the exhibit reveal the dismal conditions of everyday life.  Courtesy of the Annenberg Space for Photography.

Photographer Carolina Sandretto captures this tenement, the likes of which are common in Cuba. Several of her photos in the exhibit reveal the dismal conditions of everyday life. Courtesy of the Annenberg Space for Photography.

The photographs (most taken within the last decade) show post-apocalyptic conditions. But despite their unfortunate hand, the Cuban people maintain a sense of optimism and warmth. Throughout the exhibit, Cubans are shown living life as full as they possibly can. Their portraits evoke a sense of pride and energy. While they may not have much, they have the arts; Cuba Is teaches about the artistic passions that still flower under a totalitarian government that strips its people of most pleasures (like microwaves, cell phones, and internet). 

Dance is prominent in the exhibit. Tropicana dancers evoke island warmth and culture (see above). Traditional ballerinas rehearse against the desolation of a crumbling city backdrop (below). Art is a source of engagement and hope, expressing the talent, optimism, and vivacity of the Cuban people. 

 The juxtaposition of the ballerinas in a grim urban setting is stunning in this photograph by Leysis Quesada Vera.  Courtesy of the Annenberg Space for Photography.

The juxtaposition of the ballerinas in a grim urban setting is stunning in this photograph by Leysis Quesada Vera. Courtesy of the Annenberg Space for Photography.

While the exhibit explains Cuba’s changing climate, and promise, or perhaps threat, looming in its near future, it also illustrates the injustices that still plague the country. One disturbing series shows the secret life of Cuba’s most privileged 1%. This small, elite class enjoys a lifestyle of which the rest of the population can't even dream. The photographs display beautiful, young, rich Cubans on the way to social events and dinners parties. According to the exhibition, the government keeps their luxury living under wraps. Their beautiful island mansions are purposely hidden, accessed only by secret roads. Most Cubans aren’t aware that anybody in the state lives so well. Disconcertingly, Cuba Is exposes the carefree quality and bounty of the 1% right alongside its display of the ghastly conditions for the masses. 

 Members of Cuba's elite class live in hidden mansions like this one, captured by Hermes Mallea & Adrián Fernández. The photographers were not allowed to reveal the exact location of this island manse.  Courtesy of the Annenberg Space for Photography.

Members of Cuba's elite class live in hidden mansions like this one, captured by Hermes Mallea & Adrián Fernández. The photographers were not allowed to reveal the exact location of this island manse. Courtesy of the Annenberg Space for Photography.

The exhibit also screens an eye-opening documentary that delves into the deeper problems and personal stories behind the photographs. A visit to Cuba Is enlightens, disheartens, and humbles, perhaps making visitors more grateful of the lifestyle they have. 

The exhibit runs until March 4, 2018. Visit www.annenbergphotospace.org for more information.