Cuba is a nation where the present is sustained by a violent past. The devastation of its landscapes maintains a sense of living in a battlefield.
Beginning with the censorship of the film PM in 1961, there is a history of banning all those (and not only the artistic) attempts that strive to register a reality that is not in congruence with the new Nation Project instituted by what we still call the Revolution. It seems as if by making those attempts invisible, it was hoped that they would disappear. But nowadays Cuban artists have learned to use the subterfuges in order to create a testimonial image of their context by adopting other methodologies and media.
In the second half of the 2000’s Cuba saw the raising of what critics called video-creation, a hybrid between video-art and documentary. These visual narratives are the result of a cultural and socio-historical research, where the artists are delving deeply in those areas where the identity of the Cuban subject is continuously being molded.
Javier Castro (1984) is one of the iconic artists of this movement. He graduated from the University of Arts, but most of his relevant works come from the experience gained by being part of the Cátedra de Arte Conducta (Behaviorial Art School) in 2006.
Reconstructing the hero (2006) is a video where, using the method of the interview, Javier Castro tries to, in spite of the title, deconstruct the myth of the hero, represented by one of our most important historical figures of recent Cuban history: Antonio Maceo. And, as I would like to add by extension, the figure of the Mother. Antonio Maceo, also known as the Bronze Titan, was a mulato coming from a free family. He and all his brothers (as well as his mother Mariana, also an important historical figure) joined the war since its very beginnings, in 1968. They all wanted to help ending the colonization and slavery.
|Javier Castro, Reconstructing the hero, 2006, 4.26min, MINIDVD.|
Because of his courage and leadership, Maceo quickly got to be General. We Cubans mostly saw him as a contrasting figure to another National Hero, José Martí, a writer and intellectual. Maceo represents for us the fierceness in the will of wanting to be free; he is a symbol of the Cuban masculine essence. So, how is this symbol embraced nowadays in the collective imaginary? In Javier’s words, with this video he wanted to “update the sense of courage and belligerence”, two key works in the discourse of Cuban History.
One of the many consequences of the machismo in Cuba is the violence by which interpersonal relations among males are being carried out, strongest between those living in segregated neighborhoods. There is an unwritten code that rules every dispute: Paraphrasing Maceo, the “honor” must be conquered by the machete’s edge.
In Reconstructing the hero Javier Castro interviewed twenty-six women - corresponding to the number of injuries that the Hero supposedly had to suffer during the liberation war against Spain. But this coincidence is never explicitly revealed in the video: all we see are those mothers relating how their sons got wounded due to violent confrontations (mostly revenges or unexpected attacks). The camera shows the scene without transforming it in any way. There is no artificiality in the register, no intervention, it is sort of a “what you film is what you get”. And is this honesty which makes it brutal, because it makes it real.
An important thing to point out is that all the women interviewed are black and, as the camera makes evident, impoverished. Therefore, there is also a critique on social reality in Reconstructing... Because even when we cannot assume this video as being representative for a statistic reality, we know that the biggest number of persons who live in conflictive zones in Cuba, surrounded by poverty and violence, far from safety and governmental attention, are black people.
I think that the fact that Javier Castro chose the figure of the Mother to talk about the figure of the New Hero in Cuba, expressed also an interest in gender issues. The last interview of the videos is with the only mother who reports that her son had died, according to her, because of a complot between the doctor and the police. The way she tells her story reveals a component of the ingrained idea of motherhood in Cuba. She continuously repeats “to me” every time she narrates something her son did to someone or someone else did to him. Ending her story with a “they killed him to me”, it is not only like if the son is an extension of her being, but also like if all the tragedy was her fault.
All Javier Castro’s video-creations seek to expose that status quo of the Cuban society, conveniently silenced by the power structures of the government. While recording everyday situations, he builds up an archive that shows that not everything is what it seems.