/ NO. 24 I NEVER SAID I WAS A POET . MY NEW PERSONAL ZINE

This is a zine I made when I was desiring an outlet for pure self-expression. I figured that there was no better way to communicate myself to the world than to photograph the things that best represent me – my home (at the time) and my belongings. Also included is a writing of my personal story as I feel that no one can truly understand me unless the know what I come from. I am an incredibly shy person and saw this zine as a way to really put myself ‘out there’ for the first time. I also was very excited to speak of + show the things that I feel very passionate about.

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MY QUOTE OF THE DAY: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” – MLK

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/ NO. 10 THE POSTERS OF THE ICAIC . CUBAN FILM INSTITUTE

Just three months after the 1959 victory in Cuba, the ICAIC [Instituto Cubano del Arte y la Industria Cinematográficos or the Cuban Film Institute] was created. It’s arrival came as a result of the first culture law of the revolutionary government [founded by the Dirección de Cultura del Ejército Rebelde (Culture division of the Rebel Army)] which stated that film was to be considered a medium of utmost importance to the Revolution, declaring it as “the most powerful and provocative form of artistic expression, and the most direct and widespread vehicle for education and bringing ideas to the public.” Before the Revolution, the film industry was virtually nonexistent in Cuba, however, after the Revolution, by contrast, up to 130 feature films were being made annually for the first ten years. Thus the first decade of the institution was hailed by critics, “the Golden Age,” most notably because of Humberto Solás [Lucía (1969)] and Tomás Gutiérrez Alea [Memorias del subdesarrollo (1968)], both of whom are widely regarded as the best film directors to have come out of Cuba.

Not surprisingly, for the last 40 years one of the strongest and most prolific sections of the ICAIC has been documentaries and short-films. The documentary Now [1965] by Santiago Álvarez is considered by many to be the first “music video” in history, combining a song by Lena Horne [which at the time was banned in the United States] with an uninterrupted sequence of images depicting racial discrimination in the US. Animation also holds a strong place in Cuban cinema, the most famous cartoon being Elpidio Valdés, a character that represents a mambí fighter, struggling for Cuban independence against the Spanish occupation in the 19th century. Again, when you consider how small of a country Cuba actually is, the quality and quantity of films produced [specifically between 1960-1970] is nothing short of phenomenal.

The film posters then, according to the ICAIC, could be nothing short of phenomenal either. Coming in a variety of styles, some of “stunning simplicity,” and others of “great sophistication,” the common link between them was that nearly all were created with the most exquisite saturated coloring. Extremely bold [many being quite witty and confrontational], the posters became the inspiration behind what would later on be the OSPAAAL posters. Upon viewing the ICAIC graphics for the first time, Haydee Santamaria, head of Casa de las Americas [a Cuban cultural outreach institution], demanded that all forthcoming political posters in Cuba be just as imaginative. Larger in size than the average OSPAAAL poster, the ICAIC posters were made in small silksceen editions, a very labor-intensive process but the outcome was well worth the time and money spent. The richly colored inks used were always very thick and heavy, thus the surface of the posters became almost like that of a painting. I’m lucky enough to own a couple of these, and they do feel nothing short of luxurious to the touch.

Astonishingly, the graphics of the ICAIC were not intended to advertise the films, rather these were movies that the Cuban people were expected to see anyway, so the posters became more of a visual adjunct to them… another work of art for filmgoers to enjoy. Not only placed in cinema houses, the ICAIC posters were mostly displayed in the streets on bus stop posts, which were specifically designed to house large advertisements [prior to the Revolution]. Unfortunately, very few of these posts still exist today and none display the ICAIC posters any longer. Just as Cuba’s film industry has, the ICAIC posters have diminished radically in recent decades due to lack of internal resources. Cuban movies are now mostly made in association with companies outside.

It is worth noting that although Charlie Chaplin was “rejected as subversive by the US government in the McCarthy era,” he is often regarded in Cuba as a liberator, thus widely viewed as a cultural hero amongst it’s citizens. It is for this reason that the ICAIC introduced “mobile cinema” to rural parts of Cuba, playing Chaplin films to peasants who not only lacked any form of scholastic education, but who also had never seen a single movie. Perhaps the most well known of all the ICIAC images is a portrait of Charlie Chaplin illustrated by Eduardo Munoz Bachs, Cuba’s leading humorous poster designer. Although OSPAAAL had commissioned dozens of artists during it’s time, I believe that the ICAIC ever only hired a handful.

Whatever one’s personal opinions are in regards to the content of the OSPAAAL and ICAIC graphics, what stands out most to me is just how ballsy they are. Perhaps in this day and age people won’t view these posters as anything particularly shocking, however one must remember that at the birth of these organizations, no one in the world was creating graphics like this. For what their purpose was, which was to be a medium for communication, the execution by these Cuban artists was exceptional.

MY QUOTE OF THE DAY: “To me style is just the outside of content, and content the inside of style, like the outside and the inside of the human body. Both go together, they can’t be separated.” – Jean-Luc Godard

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/ NO. 9 OUR ENEMY IS IMPERIALISM, NOT ABSTRACT ART . FIDEL CASTRO

[Cuban Poster Art Part One: OSPAAAL]

“The art of the Revolution will be internationalist, at the same time as it will be tightly bound to the national roots. We shall encourage the legitimate and combative cultural expressions of Latin America, Asia, and Africa, which imperialism tries to destroy. Our cultural institutions shall be vehicles of the true artists of these continents, of the neglected, of the persecuted, of those who do not allow themselves to be domesticated by cultural colonialism and who fight together with their people in the struggle against imperialism.” – A mission statement from the Congress on Education and Culture in Cuba.

[Libya, Angola. OSPAAAL posters often feature a traditional figure from the country it is commemorating, juxtaposed by some small weapon of defense. Large weapons of destruction, such as planes and bombs, are only used by the imperial oppressor.]

In January of 1966, the first meeting of the “Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America [OSPAAAL]” took place in Havana, Cuba. Recuperating from a failed campaign in Africa and preparing for his next in Latin America, Che Guevara was not in attendance, though the organization had been conceived at his request due to the necessity he felt for “Third World unity in the face of First World imperialism.” This conference gave birth to a government sanctioned and subsidized magazine called Revista Tricontinental, which was published in Spanish, French, English and Arabic and distributed to a whopping 87 countries, a massive amount when you consider how small of a nation Cuba actually is. Modest sized fold-out posters accompanied every issue of Tricontinental, the purpose being that each image would commemorate a certain country oppressed by and struggling against US imperialism, giving it a specific day (or week) of solidarity based on “some recent historic event.” For example, the African American people received August 11, the date of the Watts Riots. These posters were used to support the revolution within Cuba and to “promote liberation movements internationally.” Just as the Revolution was, Cuba’s public art has always been unashamedly internationalist, always supporting the idea of Third World liberation… something in which, by contrast, most other socialist countries tended to be shy about due to interests of conciliation with the United States.

[The African American people, Papua New Guinea.]

Speaking of the US, despite the embargo, a remarkable amount of Tricontinental issues hit American shores as well, becoming collectors items for a certain few. With over 350 graphically striking posters having been produced by OSPAAAL over the last 40 years, 38 countries in total have been commemorated, Vietnam being the leader in this group. Only two US individuals have ever been honored… Angela Davis and George Jackson, as illustrated by Black Panther Minister of Culture Emory Douglas [whom I also believe was the only American artist ever commissioned for the series]. Due to their widespread popularity, the posters became much larger in size [thus issued physically separate from the magazine shortly after Tricontinental‘s debut] and were rolled into tubes. Sadly, the OSPAAAL posters reached their numerical peak during the 1970’s due to diminishing resources and help from the old Socialist bloc, as well as decreasing fervor for “revolutionary adventurism” in general across the globe. Whereas OSPAAAL was once employing dozens of artists during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, by the mid 1990’s, the number had dwindled all the way down to 2! Nonetheless, Che’s idea of “exporting revolution” may have come to a demise a long time ago, but Cubans still continue to export the idea of revolution.

[Palestine, Cuba.]

From a visual standpoint, the OSPAAAL posters have become the absolute front runners in political poster art with their stark imagery often juxtaposed by vibrant colors, thus inspiring countless mimics across the world since their arrival. Before the first OSPAAAL conference even transpired, a supposed debate between Che Guevara and Fidel Castro took place on the topic of which visual style they wanted the art of the Revolution to be depicted in. Castro, famously quoted as saying that “our enemy is imperialism, not abstract art,” was a noted fan of modern art, often calling it “crazy” just as the Revolution itself was, and opted for “modern” to become the new national style under his new government. I have read that Guevara was not quite as gung ho on this matter and needed some convincing. He has been quoted as saying that the celebration of “artistic freedom” ends up as indulgence in “meaningless anguish and and vulgar amusement,” although it offered “convenient safety valves for anxiety”! Apparently, Che abandoned these thoughts soon enough though, coming to an agreement with Castro to purposely rebel against the realist style favored in countries such as China and Russia [Khrushchev made no secret of his hatred for abstract art]. Che came to recognize the hypocrisy of theses nations as he stated “the socialist realist art of anti-capitalist twentieth century revolutions is based on essentially bourgeois academic realism of the nineteenth century, which was also a class art, more purely capitalist perhaps then the decadent art of the twentieth century, which at least reveals the anguish of alienated humanity. Why then should we try to find the only valid prescription for revolutionary art in the frozen academicism of socialist realism?” Furthermore, Che went on to say that realism threatened to “put a strait-jacket on the artistic expression of humanity which is in the process of making itself anew through revolution.” Despite oppositional political expression being heavily restricted in Cuba, cultural expression [through graphics] became very open and experimental during this time, often using the styles of Pop, Op, Psychedelia, Neo-Surrealism, and Neo-Art Nouveau.

[Zimbabwe, Puerto Rico.]

Many OSPAAAL posters commemorating Cuba paid homage to Che himself, particularly after his death in 1967. On occasion, his portrait was shown alongside that of Camilo Cienfuegos‘ as well. Che was considered by many to be as physically beautiful as he was “morally beautiful,” thus his face became a popular icon of revolution in general… a symbol against social struggle not only in Latin America, but everywhere in the world. I won’t get into the gross commercialization of his image that has occurred in recent decades but Che has always been a figure of “peace through war” and according to Fidel Castro [after being asked in the late 1960’s about what he thought of so many American students clutching portraits of Che during demonstrations], “his ideas, his portrait, and his name are banners in the struggle against injustice by the oppressed and exploited and they arouse passionate enthusiasm in students and intellectuals everywhere.” Indeed, to this day, Che very much lives on as a hero to those who dare to challenge the “status quo,” and rebel against injustice wherever he or she finds it… actions of which belong to Guevara’s own definition of “revolutionary.” It is for these reasons that Che’s OSPAAAL posters are among the most sought after.

[Cuba, Japan.]

[Puerto Rico, Zimbabwe.]

[Angola, Vietnam.]

[The African American people.]

To view a near complete series of OSPAAAL posters, click on this link. Cuban Poster Art Part Two: ICAIC [The Cuban Film Institute] coming soon.

MY QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be… The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

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/ NO. 7 WARHOL VS. CASTRO . THE QUEST FOR POWER

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to stumble upon some biographical bits on Andy Warhol. I noticed that the formula he had created to gain fame paralleled the formula in which Fidel Castro had created to gain notoriety and influence. Both men had an initial goal of power (though their reasons for wanting that power cannot be compared). The first step that they both took to achieve power was to orchestrate a big event which would get their name in the papers… a spectacle that would make people pay close attention to them. For Warhol, it was his first one-man show at the Stable Gallery in Manhattan. He displayed cold images of everyday items and spoke nothing about what these silkscreened paintings were supposed to mean. At a time when most famous artists spoke openly and obsessively about the deep symbolism behind their work… Warhol, a virtual unknown at the time, decided to go the opposite route and keep his mouth shut, which in turn led all of the critics to go wild with their own interpretations of his work. One critic even wrote “the decision not to decide is a paradox that is equal to an idea which expresses nothing but then gives it dimension.” They were absolutely transfixed by Warhol’s “uniqueness” [which was mostly bullshit], thus establishing him as the leading figure in a new movement. I’ve also read that Warhol chose his subject matter due to the fact that they were items which were both universally familiar and well-liked… the point being that the more people he could get to identify positively with his pieces, the more attention he would receive. I’m not sure how accurate this is, but it does seem pretty logical.

For Castro, it was the attack that he led on the Moncada Barracks on July 26, 1953 that earned him major recognition. On this night, Castro alongside his brother Raul, and approx. 150 rebel soldiers joined together in hopes of infiltrating Cuba’s second largest military garrison. The plan was to hold the current soldiers at bay, seal the arsenal to prevent it from being used against the people, and take over the post’s radio station to broadcast appeals to the citizenry urging them to join the insurrection to bring down the Batista government. The attack failed quite miserably, 61 of the rebel soldiers were killed, with half of them being captured first and then tortured to death. While Castro managed a brief escape to the nearby countryside, he was apprehended a short time afterward and sent to prison. During his time in jail, Fidel spent all of his free time educating himself even further on revolutionary tactics and wrote the famous speech “History Will Absolve Me,” which he used as part of his defense during his trial and later published as part of his manifesto. Because of this stunt, Fidel Castro became a household name in Cuba. In 1955, Castro was released and of course went on to lead his movement to victory on January 1, 1959, taking over the Cuban government. Castro named his revolutionary organization “Movimiento 26 De Julio” in honor of its first event, a.k.a. “M-26-7″.

The second step that both Warhol and Castro took was to surround themselves with charismatic people, thus drawing in more attention. Warhol enlisted the help of his slew of eccentric friends, putting them in his films and creating a space [“The Factory“] where they could all “hang out,” brainstorm projects and be photographed together. Soon strangers were competing to be a part of Warhol’s “scene,” realizing that they too could gain fame just by association. Castro of course enlisted the help of the very handsome and charismatic Che Guevara, who became his right hand man. Every bit of the fighter and brave soul that Fidel was, Guevara also embodied a certain charm, which when he spoke, ended up encouraging more citizens to join in on or support the fight that they so much believed in.

No matter how different these two men’s reasons for wanting power was, two things remain the same… they were both very much showmen, and they both utilized these two steps to their fullest.

MY QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I count on taking [the French people] by surprise. A bold deed upsets people’s equanimity, and they are dumbfounded by a great novelty.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

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/ NO. 01 CONTACT INFORMATION . LINK

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