Where is Fidel

When Yamile Calderon went to Cuba in February 2006, she experienced that people were talking about Fidel Castro non-stop, both his supporters and his enemies, and there were lots of rumours and gossip and people never knew exactly where he was, and pictures of him were everywhere, there was an overwhelmingly amount of them, both in public and in private spaces, and Calderon thought: Why all these pictures?

Where is Fidel? is a series of 15 photographs. They show different interiors with the picture of Fidel on the wall. In a way they combine Calderon’s interest in portraits and social issues: Where is Fidel? can generate a reflection about both portraits and pictures and the situation on Cuba.

What happens when you see a picture again and again? Do you get so used to it that you stop seeing it? Or is there some kind of message that sneaks into your head? Fidel the saviour, the father, grandfather, brother, comforting, threatening, big brother is watching you. When a picture is repeated, does it get more powerful or less? And what does it mean when Cubans hang the picture of Fidel on the walls in their private homes? Do they regard him as a family member? A beloved leader and comrade of the people? A holy symbol? Is it a sign on the inhabitants’ political conviction and genuine support? Or? Where is Fidel? generates questions.

When Cuba was colonized by Spain they inherited Catholicism, where paintings and sculptures were used to evangelize the illiterate, to explain things that don’t exist in a material way and as symbols to worship. With the Cuban revolution in 1959 communism, an anti-religious ideology- triumphed. But as Calderon says: ”Political propaganda has used the same strategy as religion: using images to educate the people.” Perhaps we might say that the pictures of Fidel Castro and especially Che Guevara became modern icons, and that immaterial Cuban communistic ideas were transformed into the features of their faces.

In Calderon’s series the picture of Fidel is hanging in locations that are neither too luxurious nor too shabby. The classroom is sparse, but there is a classroom. The computers are not the fanciest, but they are there. When I talked to Calderon about the situation on Cuba, she was interested in the question of modernity. Is Cuba old-fashioned because people don’t have the latest laptops, or is the fact that Cuba has a highly educated population, free abortion and hospitals for all a sign on modernity?

As the pictures of Fidel are in dialogue with the surroundings in Calderon’s photographs, her series is in dialogue with the concept of this exhibition. We don’t find a single cross in Where is Fidel? But we might find some crossing lines between religious strategies in the use of images and the preaching of a secular message. And I get a glimpse of nearly invisible crossing lines in the face of Fidel, a secular leader with a holy aura.

Johanna Zwaig