There’s something a little different about the new show at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre. Photos are certainly a component, but it’s also an art exhibition. It’s two … two … two exhibits in one. The first is called “The Conflux of Eternities,” the second, “An American Presence in Cuba.”
Most of the photos and all of the art are by Kadir Lopez, a Cuban who is the first resident artist at the Photo Centre.
The show spins off Cuban mythology as well as fact. Lopez’s photos are all crisp black and white, but they’re not photos as art so much as recordings of off-the-beaten track Havana landmarks: a memorial to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, or ancient advertisements from the Batista era (RCA Victor, Firestone) still prominent on weathered Cuban walls.
Interspersed with Lopez’s photos are archival photos of Cuba during the 20th century, often of personalities who loved or visited Cuba — Hemingway, Sinatra, Santos Traficante, Josephine Baker, Nat King Cole. Even Walt Disney shows up, enjoying what appears to be an adult beverage at the Hotel Nacional. The only American celebrity with a Cuban connection who’s absent is Errol Flynn, who spent most of the last 18 months of his life proseletizing for Castro’s revolution.
On adjacent walls are a series of prints on aluminum sheets reproducing the captions on the back of old Associated Press wire photos dealing with Cuba, and a selection of various bottles of Cuban beer containing, not beer, but more pictures from the pre-revolutionary era — Eisenhower, Hitler, with layers of resin between photos and the glass.
The floor of the exhibit space holds two large representations of Monopoly boards with Cuban landmarks taking the place of Park Place and the rest. (Lucky Luciano is hiding out in Lopez’s version of Monopoly jail.) There are also two three-foot high Rubik’s cubes, with nine photos per side. One of the giant Rubik’s cubes showcases American landmarks, the other Cuban landmarks. Each reflects the contents of the other — the American constitution is juxtaposed with the Cuban constitution, the American capitol building with the Cuban capitol building and so forth.
There are several narratives at work here. Lopez’s work draws lines that connect and emphasize our shared cultural artifacts, our similarities rather than our differences. In that sense, the message is one of cultures that are essentially congruent. There’s also another, underlying narrative about America’s colonization of Cuba, but then a great many countries besides Cuba could tell a similar story.
But there’s also a perceptible indication of potential destruction here — the resin contained in the beer bottles on the wall is highly explosive — cultural Molotov cocktails.
Lopez’s Cuba could go either way — a close American cousin or a firebrand of revolution.
IF YOU GO
“The Conflux of Eternities” and “An American Presence in Cuba”
When: Through Nov. 16
Where: Palm Beach Photographic Centre, 415 Clematis Street, West Palm Beach