What was being saved? The false­ness or the im­pos­si­bil­ity of the utopia, so quick and defini­tively ru­ined, is clearly re­flected.

Art On Cuba - - Looking Aside -

Und jetzt (¿Y ahora qué? –And Now What?) was not only one of the most at­trac­tive and orig­i­nal ex­hi­bi­tions of Photo Es­paña 2016 in Madrid, but also had the virtue to re­veal some es­sen­tial keys of the artis­tic ta­lent of one of the most rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cuban pho­tog­ra­phers to­day, José Al­berto Figueroa.

Al­though he was not present on the fall of the Ber­lin wall on Novem­ber 1989, Figueroa moved to the GDR on June-July 1990 be­cause of the pre­sen­ta­tion of the last Cuban exhibition in that coun­try that was about to dis­ap­pear. On March 1990 there had been elec­tions that gave a solid vic­tory to Chan­cel­lor Hel­mut Kohl, sup­porter of the im­me­di­ate in­te­gra­tion of the Ger­man Fed­eral Re­pub­lic. Being pre­cisely in Ber­lin, Figueroa spends on some wines on a ter­race the last East Ger­man marks of a na­tional cur­rency which is elim­i­nated and re­placed by the Deutsche Mark. On Oc­to­ber 1990, Ger­many was al­ready re­uni­fied.

Figueroa could not move to the west­ern zone be­cause of lack­ing a visa. His pho­to­graphs were fo­cused in what re­mained of the Wall, par­tially de­stroyed, and al­ways from the per­spec­tive of the East. These images of­fered a re­flec­tion on the im­mi­nent dis­ap­pear­ance of the GDR, on the sense that the com­mu­nist ex­pe­ri­ence of the coun­try had had dur­ing the past forty years and on the un­known elements that sur­rounded the fu­ture of the East­ern Bloc, in gen­eral, and es­pe­cially in Cuba. And Now What?

Af­ter the se­ries pre­sented this year in Madrid, Figueroa gave the de­fin­i­tive step from doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy to pho­to­graphic con­cep­tu­al­ism.

The pho­tos, marked by des­o­la­tion and melan­choly, ap­proaches some min­i­mal­ist scener­ies, dom­i­nated by a lonely, de­stroyed, aban­doned, use­less wall, with point­less tow­ers of vig­i­lance—in line, many times, with the gen­er­a­tion com­ing from the ISA (High Art In­sti­tute) which be­gan to make a crit­i­cal work to­wards the end of the 1980s, as Los Carpin­teros, Car­los Garaicoa…—, aban­doned fir­ing ranges, stores out of sup­plies with an­ti­quated ar­ti­cles, west­ern con­sump­tion prod­ucts which be­gan to in­vade the space. Very few per­sons in the pho­tos, pre­vail in them, as cu­ra­tor Cristina Vives points out, lone­li­ness, pain, cu­rios­ity, fear—that fear Cubans un­der­stand so well—, au­dac­ity…

And Now What? In the GDR it is clear that this Per­e­stroika ap­pear­ing in the photo of a metro sta­tion in Paris, called Stal­in­grad, is dis­carded: it is pure and hard cap­i­tal­ism which is tri­umph­ing.

The pop­u­la­tion has clearly opted for it. They knew very well, through the tele­vi­sion and the west­ern oc­ci­den­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion media, which was the work­ing-class liv­ing stan­dard on the other side of the Wall and they have thrown them­selves to that part of the coun­try. The in­au­gu­ra­tion of Figueroa’s exhibition in the GDR had a min­i­mal at­ten­dance of the au­di­ence be­cause, as the photographer says: the main part of the au­di­ence is on the other side.

The fail­ure of com­mu­nism is ev­i­dent. In Un­ter den Li­den

(an av­enue, Un­der the Lime Trees), a car from the West and an­other from the East re­flect the qual­ity dif­fer­ence. A daz­zling Citroën ap­pears next to a poster with the word Rev­o­lu­tion. All the few things still in the GDR are sold any­way. The temp­ta­tion of con­sumerism hov­ers over the so­ci­ety. A large ad­ver­tis­ing of Camel to­gether with tins of Coca-Cola and Fanta dom­i­nate the fa­mous bor­der po­si­tion, that Check­point Char­lie that was seen re­cently in Spiel­berg’s splen­did film Bridge of Spies…

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