Photographs | Entre los Cubanos
April 27, 2018
When I called my parents to tell them I had won the grant, they were thrilled for me. I would get a taste of whatever crumbling ruins were left of the Soviet Union they had to leave behind...
|Artist's name||Ripsime Biyazyan|
Graduate Student at Columbia University
|City/Country||New York, N.Y.|
|About the artist||
For my undergraduate senior comprehensive thesis, I traveled to Havana, Cuba for three weeks to study the effect that dissident bloggers have on the international community with the purpose of placing more pressure on Cuba to liberalize. I was accompanied by my maternal grandfather, with whom I spent a lot of time, considering there was no internet and no one else we knew on the island. He passed away about a month later due to a heart attack. I am incredibly lucky to have spent the time with him, as he showed me that the pristine lives that the happy Cubans led were pure bliss. I am glad I was able to give him one last adventure, and for that, I dedicate my work—my photos and my thesis—to him.
I won my grant to Cuba the day former President Barack Obama announced that he would lift the tourism blockade in April 2015, almost neatly aligning with the Armenian Genocide Centennial. I went to Cuba on the premise of an American student taking a photojournalism class, but the parallels I saw with my family’s experience as Armenians in the final days of the crumbling Soviet Union were noteworthy: from the cold political environment to the warm hospitality of strangers, Cuba was a beautifully life-changing experience, both as an Armenian and as an American.
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- Summer night The youth love to hang around the long highway overlooking the ocean almost every night with guitars celebrating the warm humid Cuban summer nights. You'll find a range of people here besides the youth, families, street vendors, and dancers dancing the traditional Brazilian Capoeira.
- Jose Marti Cubans follow the soft philosophy of their national hero, Jose Marti. His bust is all over Havana and people refer to him all the time, as if he is still alive. This caption reads, "Art, I am between the artists and the mountains, I am a mountain."
- Culture and identity With the opening of borders and the decline in the authority of the state (in terms of allowing people to have private businesses), the mysterious Cuban culture that Americans learned about from a distance is threatened by the rise of the corporate and tourist industry. However, Cubans have carried on through thick and thin and maintain their sense of culture and identity.
- 'Hasta La Victoria Siempre' "Hasta La Victoria Siempre" (Onward to victory always) when you see this large building in the middle of Havana, you hear Che Guevara's firm promise to his comrades, years ago. Cubans want to remember the importance of friendships and loyalty, and thus, have images of Che everywhere, more so than of Fidel Castro himself.
- Soroa My grandfather and I had taken a trip to Pinar Del Rio, on the westernmost tip of the island. On our way back, I wanted to see a waterfall called Soroa. We got on a bus and soon fell asleep. A man woke us up and told us that we had reached Soroa and that we had to get off. I noticed that we were to be left in the middle of the highway, as he pointed towards the nearest village. I paid a few men with a horse and carriage to get us to the village, and they helped us find someone with a car to take us to the waterfall. It was indeed very beautiful, but as the sun began to set, I was worried how to return to Havana. But the driver offered to take us there without hesitation, as he could just visit his brother-in-law in the city after offering us dinner and coffee. The hospitality of this stranger reminded me of being in Armenia and how everyone was so welcoming and helpful, much like my people.
- 'History will absolve us.' "Forward with all the forces of history," as per a famous quote from Fidel Castro: "History will absolve us." The idea that the history of the Cuban people was the impetus for moving forward with such force is parallel to that of the Armenian people. We never fail to mention our "sea to sea" empires and pride ourselves on being the unique persevering and resilient people that we are. This idea should be an inspiration to all.
- Las Cubanas
- Las Terceras
- Money Roof
- Passing Through
- Old Trains
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