Link to What's New This Week. Issue for Week of December 15, 2003 through January 26, 2004

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Current Issue:
Volume 19, No. 1, Week of December 15, 2003 through January 26, 2004

Beginning of Reports on Cuba
Fall 2003 Visual Sociology Exhibit: Naked Space

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Spring 2004 Naked Space Exhibit.

Beginnings of the Fall 2003 Gala Exibition: Naked Space Report, destined to be submitted for the American Sociological Association Meetings in San Francisco in August 2004. Please follow the report as I write and e-mail your comments and your contributions. It's still naked space, and this is a community product.

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors,
December 2003.
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Visions of Cuba

Visons of Cuba: It's All About Land! Or Is It?

Topic of the Week:

Answerability: It's All About Land!
I actually started this painting on canvas, but the trauma of dismantling the Naked Space Exhibit, and finding mislaid items meant that it's still sitting on the easel unfinished. So I finished at least one version on my trusty little Corel Photo House program. With Cuba it really is about land, like Iraq is really about oil. This is the first time I've actually been able to meet with and and talk with "dissidents" in a communist country. In Russia we were well fenced off. And in Cuba there wasn't a lot of time for free exchange. But Arnold and I wandered off and took in as much as the short period would let us.

It's all about land. Was during the revolution; still seems to be. I know Che Guevara's ideas. He wanted equality; he wanted an end to exploitation. He had seen it all across South and Central America, from his home in Argentina to Colombia where he fought, and was killed with at least the whisper of CIA knowledge and intervention. I do not pretend to "know" the details of historical events that took place long ago and far away from my quotidien experiences. But I had long enough and free enough access to see that class issues exist in Cuba as they do in China as they do here.

This sketch for a painting tries to express that. Habana and the other towns in which we found ourselves were filled with beautiful architecture, old homes, mansions, publi buildings, worthy of any colonial history. But as we walked through the streets, hurriedly (they didn't give us lots of free time) we passed living quarters that opened right off the narrow sidewalks, with people inside engaged in normal daily activities. An older man reading his paper in a rocking chair. Activity with children. The doors were wide open; and we of course gawked in, more curious than polite. The older man reading was only a couple of feet away.

Most of us didn't stop to gawk. We rushed on as though our objective lay elsewhere. But one man, a doctor, with our group had a digital camera he aimed into the residences with great frequency. As we passed one residence with about a fourand a half foot wooden sheet across the door for privacy, he lifted his digital camera over the wooden barrier and shot randomly. He an another group member shared with delight his "success." And I remembered the Ugly American of so long ago.

The wooden barrier was a visual statement saying "private, keep out." Why would we presume that our technological sophistication meant that we could override that statement from the Other? When the Other answers with a visual barrier, perhaps hostilely, perhaps defensively, what makes us believe that our digital cameras may pry in spite of that. That is an assertion of power, the power of technology in the case of the camera, the power of relative wealth that permitted our presence in another sense. And how shall the other in that "private" living quarters answer? That's where the term "ugly" came from in "Ugly American." From the willingness of Americans to assume that they "knew" what should be done, how it should be done, and how those whose territories we had undertaken to manage should learn to manage them. Knowingness. Elitism. Alterity.

As I thought of all this, I couldn't help being impressed by the beautiful colonial buildings, unrestored, unpreserved, but still looming with grandeur over the capitol. Inside, those buildings were partitioned off, sometimes by curtains, sometimes by apartment-like doors, in the midst of the catastrophic destruction of forty years ago. The right hand panel represents that incoherence, that odd mixture of equality of living space and inequality of means and access. There were still neighborhoods, there were still class differences in the neighborhoods, class differences like dogs healthy and dogs with mange, their skeletons showing through. Class differences like those with no access to sustainable salaries and tourist dollars. Class differences symbolized by barbed wire protection and uniformed guards. Class differences like those in which they told us there was no crime, and yet the walls of homes were protected by bits of projecting glass. And yet the children were all in school uniforms. The gold pants and skirts and white blouses. Equality all muddled up with inequality. Not simple.

This was a very limited field trip. But I saw enough of both our behavior and theirs to recognize that this is no less complex than all the other global disputes going on. Some were anxious to see Castro go. Their primary reason was that they might once again express their own voices and take meaningful roles in governance. I heard "apathy" often mentioned as the greatest problem. Ours, too, I'm afraid. I heard of those recently prisoned for 28 years over "dissidence." I could not imagine going to prison for 28 years for "dissidence." Still can't. Very scary.

And then I thought of the US policy role, with Florida just across the way, with those who had fled forty years or so ago now living in mansions, wealthy, politcially powerful, and waiting for change to occur. The left hand panel is completely from my imaginary. And I dressed the woman in clothes that were a throwback to the time of colonial grandeur in Habana. (Actually, I was thinking og Gonk and his aunt.)

The middle panel is the stretch of water between the two groups, one colonial, one determined to take back their land. And I tried to create bars across the waters, representing the knowingness of both sides that they are right. The bars distrain and distort all, for the aesthetic product of Cuban society, however that is defined, is made up of all these factors, including that tiny bit of water beteen them. And I prayed for answerability. jeanne

Monday, December 15, 2003: I added Katie's comments on the Barbies. Katie Williams forwarded us a flippant and humorous piece that reflects the local culture of the Naked Lady Syndrome. Offers the possibility of a project for the Spring Exhibit. We haven't done much with the social role of humor, and we should.

Fall 2003: Naked Space Working on the Catalog. jeanne December 15, 2003. I have not found either the muslim table cover or the missing madonna at home. We will search in the office again. jeanne

For Preparatory Conference Reports and Other Information, Please refer to Volume 18