Cubanet, María Matienzo, Havana, 23 November 2017 — According to Claudio Fuentes, photographer and human rights activist, he’s started doing something like ten interviews and they haven’t published any of them. Maybe it has to do with that mania he has to be always behind the camera, pointing the lens at the Ladies in White, other activists and even his own friends.
“It’s a simple attraction to photography and nothing else,” he says, justifying himself. “I’ve always had a kind of leadership in the shadow of the people I’m interested in working with, where I know my opinions are heard, but I do not have the imperative need to be making decisions,” and he offers the example of his work with Estado de Sats together to Antonio Rodiles and Ailer Mena.
“I always say that the one who knows the most about something is the one who should have the last word. If I was in a group working on Biology, which was what I studied, or with art, maybe I would have a voice of the first rank. But here I have come last and I am always learning about civil and political rights.”
However, he does not always assume the role of student.”It’s whatever is needed,” he says. “In the video of the electoral farce in Cuba, Ailer did a test, I did another test, and Antonio said: ’No, man, no, that’s fine’. If it works, they choose me if I’m not behind the cameras.”
The combination of photography and political activism started in 2008, when they tried to imprison Gorky Águila, director of the punk rock band Porno for Ricardo.
“Suddenly and without thinking twice I was an activist for his cause. It was like a fury that I did not care about anything.All that time I had been against the system but without having expressed myself,” recalls the photographer. “I put aside my individual artistic tendencies and contributed everything I had as a tool available to the cause of democracy in Cuba.”
He confesses that he is “crazy for communism in Cuba to end because I do not want to be an opponent one more day. This field fills me with pride,” he says, referring to the time he has spent working with the opposition and the privileged position he has in the history of contemporary Cuba that allows him “to have an overview of what has happened in the opposition starting some years ago, or knowing who is who, who is really in this fight with authentic democratic goals and who are not so much.”
“But I want to make movies,” he adds.
His political position shows a Claudio Fuentes before 2008, a skilled photographer who jumps to the moving image or video in a self-taught way or in courses at the San Antonio de los Baños International Film School; and with that comes the second Claudio, punk and oppositional, who still engages with the fixed image, but who begins to radicalize towards the Civil and Political Rights movement and towards a minimalist documentary image, black background and interview style, with barely any traditional artistic values, supported only in the focus and the denunciations of the actions of the powers that be.
As a photographer and activist, he believes that his process has been organic. “In all the circles in which I have been I have belonged to those that are seen as the most radical. I see radicalism as a necessary thing. I am increasingly radical because in this totalitarianism there is no chance for the path of civic action and I do not enter into any moral questioning, the Universal Declaration [of Human Rights] is there and the whole Western world recognizes it.”
He also talks about the image as passion. “The image impacts me. All the poetics that are behind it, even the crappiest, the most mediocre, I am always reading things there. But if I try now to be a successful artist with my work, I will have to put aside the activism,” and he enumerates what he would abandon and that it would cost him more than “the feeling that my work is still waiting.”
“It would leave many people unprotected, a lot of information would not reach them, or the documentaries that we do that contribute to the civic education of the people or inform exiles and others outside of Cuba of where this is going, and these are my priorities now.”
Although he does not believe that this is his work, he talks a little about the documentary by Olac Garmendia where he was the director of photography and one of the three scriptwriters, or of the shared experience in the documentary Gusano, where he worked as a photographer and editor.
In the latter, he says, “the discussions were exquisite, rude, strong, and I made important decisions in making that film, but with all this what I have learned is to work as a team and not be the artist locked in his ivory tower or the peacock. There are many I have deep differences with even though they are friends of mine, who do not engage in any work from their art to improve the situation in Cuba or have a separate work as activists.”
He has a list of things that he could do with others without “immolating himself” because he does not want anyone to tell him, when “castroism falls” that, “I didn’t do anything, but you didn’t tell me what to do.”
In a list that ranges from recharging the phone cards of political prisoners so that they can make calls, to collecting universal literature to distribute among those same prisoners, to telling his local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), “I’m not participating in that,” to “things that have to do with kindness, with generosity,” because, like he told a friend who “didn’t want to get into the political game”: “Look, compadre, life gifted us with a dictator who is a tremendous son-of-a-bitch so we’d do things against that; they gave us a lack of freedom so that we could conquer it, it is very simple, you have to sign on.”
He analyzes a phenomenon that artists don’t escape: “What happens is that the majority here is alienated. You don’t participate because the street doesn’t belong to you, you don’t have property, or businesses, and people have a convulsive tendency to complain, and I am up to my eyeballs in complaints. They are people conquered by Castroism long ago.”
As an artist who has dedicated himself to putting a face to politics, he describes what a Cuba without Castros will be like.
“The change I imagine is very similar to what has happened in Eastern European countries, that first there is a turnaround so big that millions of people are going to have to be literate,” dreams Claudio. “There has to be a revolution of learning, in addition to 18 months of transition where new political actors will appear, intelligent people who have prepared in the shadows for fear of repression, who will compete with others who have achieved their legitimacy in the opposition.” He adds to his list of candidates the political exile: “Luckily we have an exile 90 miles away that demonstrated not only its economic capacity but its political capacity. We have Marco Rubio, Carlos (Díaz) Rosillo, Carlos Trujillo, the two Díaz-Balarts, Carlos Curbelo, Ted Cruz.”
His hope includes that, along with the changes, “there are measures of protection for all those who try to compete with this new thing that comes, because nobody is to blame for our being out of control. And the reality is that we are all in the ditch here. ”
Author: Maria Matienzo Puerto: I once dreamed that I was a butterfly coming from Africa and I discovered that I had been alive for thirty years. From then on, I built my life while I slept: I was born in a magical city like Havana, I dedicated myself to journalism, I wrote and edited children’s books, I gathered around art with wonderful people, I fell in love with a woman. Of course, there are points that coincide with the reality of the vigil and I prefer the silence of reading and the hullabaloo of a good movie.