Cuba's digital destination
One evening while in Cuba this summer, I was invited for dinner at the home of Edel Bordon and his family. Edel is an accomplished painter and the head of the painting department at San Alejandro School of Art, Cuba’s top high school for visual arts. His sweet and talented wife, Yamile Pardo, is the head of the sculpture department at the same school. They have one son, Pablo, who just graduated from the school where they both teach. Pablo has been awarded one of five seats at the top visual arts university degree program in Cuba, where he will go after completing a year of mandatory military service. Rounding out the family is their adorable daughter Lulu, who is only in elementary school but already has framed artwork proudly hung on the family room walls. My only regret of the evening is not having taken a photo of anyone—the irony being we spent ample time examining Pablo’s collection of Soviet cameras and his new digital camera brought from the States.
I met Edel when he came to Boston for his exhibition at La Galeria Cubana. His paintings, which I like very much, can be viewed on La Galeria Cubana’s website: http://lagaleriacubana.com/artist.aspx?id=1. The brilliantly iconoclastic Yamile is also represented by the same gallery: http://lagaleriacubana.com/artist.aspx?id=41. Our contact in Boston was brief but memorable and when I contacted Edel upon arrival in Havana he insisted on picking me up and bringing me to his home for dinner.
I felt very fortunate for the experience—not only to get to know Edel better and meet his lovely family—but also to have the opportunity to be a guest inside a Cuban home, and to sit, laugh, eat and drink with such warm and lively hosts. Edel and his family are clearly part of Cuba’s intellectual class and artistic elite, with both Edel and Yami having successful academic careers inside Cuba and having exhibited and sold their work outside. Their apartment was cozy and humble, with any extra income spent on art supplies, Pablo’s cameras, and personal computers—all things to further the family’s work. We happily squeezed around their small dining table and feasted on “moros y cristianos” (“Arabs and Christians,” or a mixture of rice and black beans) and lobster (Edel’s neighbor is a lobster fisherman so he gets a special deal).
We spent part of the evening looking at Pablo’s portfolio. Now I am far from an art critic, but I could immediately recognize that Pablo is a great artist in the making. He works in painting, photography, and video—showing equal strength in each medium and maturity far beyond his eighteen years. His work easily rivaled or exceeded work done by ‘talented MFA student X’ in the U.S. I was most impressed by the conceptual depth and intelligent commentary about Cuba portrayed in his photography and videos. Of course later when he pulled out his fat high school textbooks that included just about every Western philosopher, I understood how deep of a well young Pablo had to draw from, not to mention the daily influence of his highly productive and supportive superstar parents. In Cuba, if a kid goes to the top visual arts school, this doesn’t mean they just study art all day. This means that in addition to being excellent in art, it’s that much more important to get a comprehensive education in everything else.
But for artists like Edel, Yami, Pablo (and eventually Lulu), to live and work in Cuba is to literally be isolated on an island when what they really need is to be artists of the world. It is no secret that Cuba is struggling to solve the issue of improving internet access to the island’s inhabitants, which as far as I could tell had little to do with the government repressing access to information and more to do with the fact that the U.S. blockade has left Cuba with limited, slow, and expensive access to the internet highway. Hugo Chavez has however apparently come to the rescue by providing Cuba with a 1000 mile underwater cable coming from Venezuela. The realization of this IT cure-all remains to be seen though.
For a young artist like Pablo, online access is his gateway not only to a better livelihood but also to his professional stature and general sense of fulfillment. (He is only going to get so far exhibiting inside Cuba where the economy for high-end fine art cannot compare to the global one). Pablo can get on the internet at school but his time online is so restricted (so that everyone gets a chance and so as not to overload the system with too many users or too much downloading) that it’s barely enough to check email and quickly download materials to a flash drive that can be reviewed on his PC at home later on. The cost of home internet service is prohibitive, and I’m not sure this is even possible for individuals. So, in Pablo’s case, he has an entire portfolio layout designed but he is without a server to upload to and without the necessary programming time.
So what I realized that evening is that the greatest gift I could give Pablo and his family is simply to write this piece, give him some online exposure and share with you some of his work. If you are interested in contacting Pablo Bordon, you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org January 2012