Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Havana - September 5, 2010

Yoruba Association; Callejon de Hammel; Guillermo Bello

Yoruba Association
The first stop on today's agenda was a visit the Asociacion Cultural Yoruba de Cuba (Yoruba Association). We received a brief introduction to the fusion of Catholicism (the Spanish introduced Catholic dieties and saints) and African-Cuban traditions. Syncretism was the result of forced worship and the saint/diety approach. Regla de Ocho (rule of eight?) is the name of the religion. Yoruba refers to the region. Spanish didn't let Africans practice what was almost an animist religion, one with natural symbols.

We then went upstairs to look at a typical "shrine" type set-up of 8 vessels of water (that represent the rule of 8) that we may see around the city. Also in this area upstairs were physical models or representations of deities; and there were a lot of them. Some are warriors; some are male and some female; others play different roles. (I have more detailed notes on these deities, if anyone is interested.) After this tour, we saw an Oracle of Ifa (large round disc on wall with 256 symbols).

We were then ushered into a small presentation room, where we listened to a lecture on this religion, gods. There are 200 evil ones (who take part in evil in people - murders, drugs), and 201 good ones. This religion is very popular, a large percentage of the population observe traditions or have some belief in. All the religions in the beginning were making some kind of (live) sacrifices. Ocha de Regla is one of the only religions that still makes animal sacrifices (other religions use more symbolic means now).

Callejon de Hammel
We visited Callejon de Hammel, a narrow, street/alley in Havana, decorated with brightly colored walls and murals. It was crowded and a bit difficult to see everything. Behind the blue door (shown), rhumba music and dancers emerged (shown).

A small gallery/workshop (La Galleria - Taller) contained works inspired by Cuban religions with African roots. For example, there were Baba Lobo ("father wolf"); souvenirs. Inside the gallery/workshop, there was a Saint Barbara, up in a niche in one wall; and nearby was a representation of Chango (the young handsome god of thunder and the winds). Saint Barbara is linked with Chango in syncretism (fusion of Catholic and African traditions). There was also a paintings by Salvador Gonzalez, e.g. one was inspired by Echua, or the presence of Echua (another diety).

A man named Elias gave us a short presentation to us explaining a little about this street and what we were seeing; and then he also announced to the crowd that our group was there. (He also warned the crowd, half in jest and half not, to watch their belongings, in part because there were so many people in close quarters.)

Guillermo Bello 
Later we met with Guillermo Bello, who presented and talked about his work to our group. In setting this up, Bello had been asked about the series of photos that he took in Colon Cemetery, called "Luces y Sombras de la Eternidad" (Lights and Shadows of Eternity) from 2001. Bello also showed more recent and other work (doors and windows, other).

Bello talked a bit about what his thoughts were behind this series: "These works were designed to go beyond death. Some were more famous and were bigger - and some of these (statues/tombs) are in the worst shape now."

When asked if he was shooting digital, Bello replied "I was born a digital photographer." He was a physics engineer. He uses 2 or 3 of HPs printers (generations) with A3 format. Somtimes they get cartridges from other countries, such as Chile or China. Sometimes photographic papers are hard to get, so he uses different papers. He sometimes uses different emulsion treatments to get colors that are close to the results he wants. Blacks and grays are not always optimal. They have large format printers in a very few places. He's heard of some artists/photographers getting museum quality prints made from Brazil, and maybe a few other countries.

He did this Colon Cemetery series a little after 9/11/2001 (attacks in the U.S.), and some of these photos were taken during the Afghan invasion. He was/is trying to see the beauty that is there; trying to see how strong life is, e.g. in the vegetation (that keeps pushing up/through). He used a 2001 Olympus camera, with 3-4 megapixels. There were not many pixels in the camera, but they were good ones. Some print paper (said of prints he was passing around for us to look at) is watercolor paper; printed directly on watercolor paper (2002 series - blues and some other colors; doors; windows). Now he is working with a Nikon D300. He showed us a nice photo of a woman with a brushed surface.

He sells in several different galleries: the one in Cathedral Square; Obispo; Gallery Forma (sp?); at the airport. He has sold some prints in Spain. Sometimes he uses just a little watercolor or pastel to retouch the work.

More Questions and Answers:

Q?: Has he sold many prints in the work series?
A: Yes, when they had the exposition, they sold a lot.

Q?: What's he working on now?
A: He's got several ideas - currencies, passports, graphics elements....

Re: clothes blowing in balcony...
Instead of "Gone with the Wind" he wanted to focus on what wasn't gone with the wind, after Hurricane Katrina (Category 5). Fortunately, it did not go through (Havana?; could have been worse). "So I went out and took pictures of what was not affected," but could have been.

Q?: Do you use color management?
A: Yes, he bought a system recently to handle...

Q?: How many professional photographers does he think there are in Habana/Cuba?
A: He's not sure exactly. He knows some, but not all.

Q?: (to be continued...)

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