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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Rochester Photography Exhibit 'Viva Cuba!' Showcases Country's Past And Present

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Virginia Beahan
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Virginia Beahan is one of nine photographers showing work at the BigTown Gallery in Rochester. This image meditates on the thousands of Cubans who have attempted the 90-mile crossing to Florida, only to drown or be sent back to their home country.

You may not immediately think of a connection between the island nation of Cuba and the Green Mountain State, but Anni Mackay, owner and director of BigTown Gallery in Rochester, sees many similarities. She says both places have a connection to the working landscape, vibrant arts and rich culture. Mackay says the country shows tenacity and resilience in the face of adversity, a trait she says is common in the Northeast.

Mackay has pulled together vintage and recent images of the country, its people and landscape to create the exhibit, Viva Cuba!

She joined VPR to talk about the show and how it resonates with Vermonters.

Out of the nine photographers featured in the show, several are from Vermont and the New England area, as well as from Cuba. “Some of the people I was aware of, having gone to Cuba, that are within our area, I wanted to make sure that I could at least include as many people locally as I could,” she says.

“Cuba has a very rich history of photographers,” says Mackay. “They’ve long leaned on this medium for representing their cause. So the whole show became about the history of Cuba, the revolution and art, which was a perfect way for me to sort of explore the topic through these nine photographers.”

Part of the show features photos of vintage American cars that have become an iconic symbol of Cuba. “They just sort of set the stage for this beautiful city that has been suspended in time and in significant disrepair,” says Mackay. “But through these very old, American cars you get to feel the history of Cuba. And there’s a moment of enormous recognition that at some point in time this was an extraordinarily vibrant country. It was considered the Paris of the Caribbean; it had beautiful architecture, it had enormous wealth traveling there.” Mackay hopes that the photos make people, especially Vermonters, think about what it took to keep the cars going that long under the circumstances. “They represent the tenacity, also, of the Cuban people and their amazing resourcefulness," she says.

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Credit John Fago
Part of the show features photos of vintage American cars that have become an iconic symbol of Cuba. "They just sort of set the stage for this beautiful city that has been suspended in time and in significant disrepair," says BigTown Gallery owner and director Anni Mackay.

Mackay says the photos in the show are disarming because they are so beautiful. “And this is the power of the exhibition,” she explains. “The whole idea about photographing that location is this incredible vista, this incredible view, this is where they are setting ... their boats, and that’s the view these refugees are putting in their mind, heading off on that course. So it is a very beautiful, a very haunting image.”

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Credit Susan Bank
Mackay hopes Vermonters can relate to Susan Bank's body of work, which was taken in the rural center of Cuba. "For some, it's really like a true, very austere, very connected relationship to the land," she says.

The show is about revolution in a sense, says Mackay. “It is also about tenacity and resiliency. That is kind of a theme for Vermont in a way, so I think in many ways, Vermonters have a very interesting time going through the exhibition. When they come to Susan Bank’s body of work that’s taken in the rural center of Cuba, there’s a lot there that they can relate to,” she says. “For some, it’s really like a true, very austere, very connected relationship to the land.”

As diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba warm, Mackay says that many are thinking about how Cuba will fit into a global society. "I think that Vermonters feel the same way – how do we fit into the grand scheme of things? There’s been sort of a strong connection to this idea of the working landscape, and getting that going again, and sort of a cultural connection that I think we can relate to,” she says.

Viva Cuba! will be at the BigTown Gallery in Rochester through July 12.

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