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CUBA singing with bright tears depicts a country both tragic and beautiful, struggling beneath the weight of history. Larger-than-life images of revolutionary heroes Che Guevara and José Martí populate the island. The Bay of Pigs is sublime and treacherous; an atmospheric body of water rimmed with jagged black coral is the same unwelcoming shore that greeted invading CIA-trained Cuban exiles over forty-seven years ago. On a billboard, Fidel Castro reminds us that the US might invade again, and if so, he “will die fighting.”
Virginia Beahan’s work falls within the tradition of great American photographers such as Walker Evans and Robert Adams. Her luminous and detailed large-format photographs reveal a landscape imbued with nuanced stories of culture shaped by geography and human action. Cuba’s long and complicated relationship with the United States is part of this unfolding drama.
“Cuba’s history is visible everywhere, written on the land in words and images: on billboards and signs, on public buildings and homes, painted onto rocks and spelled out in whitewashed pebbles in the red earth. One is steeped in the events of the past, and the land and its people testify to their bearing on the present and the future.”
The sumptuous book of photographs by Virginia Beahan provides a richly compelling view of one artist’s vision of the tropical island. It mostly serves as a still life and landscape study. There are very few images involving people. The story of Cuba is conveyed through views of the urban and rural landscape. Here and there are signs and fragments of agit-prop texts and slogans. There are photographs of the tarnished glory of the former colonialism when Cuba was known for its decadence. There are glimpses of this prior splendor now abandoned and decrepit.
…The point of view is more artistic than journalistic. She conveys no agenda of telling us a complete and compelling story. Her eye simply records rather than editorializes. This objective approach allows us to draw our own conclusions regarding the culture and its political agenda.
This may also be a weakness of the book particularly in the absence of human elements. The approach is so abstracted and aesthetic that it creates a conundrum for the reader. The book does not represent Cuba, per se, but rather an album of carefully selected images by a sophisticated and refined artist.
While Beahan has produced a compelling collection of stunning images the larger topic of Cuba itself remains an enigma….
by Charles Giuliano – 02/18/2009 Berkshire Fine Arts http://www.berkshirefinearts.com/02-18-2009_cuba-singing-with-bright-tears.htm