After first visiting Cuba in 2009, the notorious American photographer and artist Michael Dweck couldn’t resist the impulse of making a new series of travels, in order to question Havana City and its people through the lens of his camera. He used all the visual material collected in those journeys to edit a book entitled Habana Libre (Damiani Editore, 2011). A book that has turned out to be controversial because the artist devotes all his energies on putting together a portrait of the hedonism reflected in the Havana’s cultural scene: parties, cabarets, sex, bohemian nights, smoke of tobacco, and sugar cane alcohol. The evening atmospheres of fun!
Habana Libre book was accompanied by a homonymous exposition that was exhibited in San Francisco, Toronto, Tokyo, New York, São Paulo, and the Photographic Library of Cuba. The photographs of the exposition constitute unique copies printed on kraft paper of a huge size; therefore, they are extremely valuable. The contrast of white and black together with kraft paper give a timeless appearance to the photographs. Past and present are merged into the same spirit.
Michael Dweck has showed something interesting to the world with this collection of photographs. Despite the great socialist adventure, Cubans have not lost either their wishes or their ability to have fun. They have not lost their joy, sensuality, charisma, and beauty. The Revolution closed all casinos, prohibited gambling, prostitution, and drew a veil of morality over the excesses of pleasures. However, after more than half a century, a night in Havana does not seem to be so different from a night in the 1950s. The only unlikeness is that the city has grown old in a precocious way, and now glamour exists side by side with ruins.
However, Dweck has also shown implicitly something more: the protagonists in his photographs, a group of artists and people from the show business that are talented, cultured, sophisticated and with a certain access to consumption. Such “group” is also a product of the Revolution, an obvious sample of the eruditeness project implemented by the Revolution.
Habana Libre shows us a deep paradox if we are capable of going through the contrasting brightness of photographic surfaces. The human, artistic and cultural resources created by the educational work of the Revolution takes up again the Dionysian spirit of the Caribbean in the precise moment the revolutionary project wanted to deny it, suppress it and annihilate it; for a purpose, to transform Cuba into an Apollo-like, erudite, sensible, scientific, and a country as cold as the one from our friends in the East…