Wednesday May 23, 2018

Hidden Havana City: Turning a Fresh Eye on the Familiar

Photographer Yunior Yanes explores the invisible geometries of everyday urban life

Yunior Yanes, El puente (The Bridge), 2013

Courtesy Yunior Yanes and Cuban American Phototheque

The photographic investigation of Yunior Yanes (b. Sagua La Grande, 1974) seeks, like Midas, to transform the commonplace into the unusual. Basing his work on his immediate surroundings—Havana—through his lens it ceases to be a city, but is instead converted into rhythms, lights, geometries, and other caprices that reveal the underlying charm, usually invisible, that is trapped within the everyday.

Yunior Yanes, Piscina (Swimming Pool), 2013

Courtesy Yunior Yanes and Cuban American Phototheque

“When I presented the exhibition [Ciudad oculta (Hidden City)] in Havana I discovered many interpretations of my work,” says Yanes. “Some were linked to issues affecting not only Cubans but people around the world, such as hopelessness, migration, and rootlessness. But what surprised me was to see how, for viewers, 'simple' photographs of everyday places and physical spaces, sometimes invisible to passersby, suggested themes and emotions related to their own existence. This is where the concept that animates Hidden Havana City emerges.”

Yunior Yanes, Buen día al Gran Hermano (Good Morning to Big Brother), 2013

Courtesy Yunior Yanes and Cuban American Phototheque

If Yanes’ first interest in the city was to disrupt everyday urban space worn out by daily routine and turn it into rhythms and evocative abstractions of color, soon the City of Columns was transfigured and again able to speak to its inhabitants. ["City of Columns" is an epithet given to Havana by Cuban novelist and essayist Alejo Carpentier, referencing the city's particular colonial architecture, with its magnificent portals and colonnades.] To do this, Yanes transgresses the conventional rules of photographic composition. Using unusual angles and compositions, backlighting, and extreme cropping, among other techniques, the artist manages to strip away ​​the superfluous and redundant narrative elements that inhibit the possibility of new visual dialogues.

Hidden Havana City, presented at the Cuban American Phototheque Foundation in Miami, is a photographic essay on our everyday lives and the silencing of our surroundings. Yanes portrays invisibility: those zones that we are so habituated to in our daily lives that we no longer pay any attention to, and that, merely by their latency, define us most clearly.

Havana Hidden City is a revision of Ciudad oculta, shown in Havana in June-July 2013. "Many of the photographs have been retitled since their initial reception during the show at Galería Ciudades del Mundo,” Yanes explains.

Yunior Yanes, Caleidoscopio, 2013

Courtesy Yunior Yanes and Cuban American Phototheque


The works included in the current exhibition fall into three main groups. In the first, the rhythmic accumulation of the same motif activates the works’ meanings, as in Interconexión and Inmigrantes (both 2013.) In the second, the detail has the strength of synecdoche, as in works of great poetic synthesis, such as Caleidoscopio, Espiral, and Piscina (all 2013).

Making use of the window, a universal signifier of space since the Renaissance, as well as the symbolism of the colors (red and blue), and of glass as a barrier or border, Yanes builds an effective allegory about diversity. “In Caleidoscopio,” he explains, “the color red rules the view of the city (with all the symbolism that the color red carries for the Cuban people). However, there is a small area of blue, which, though the smallest, is no less important. It breaks the chromatic monotony and says, I too have value, suggesting diversity, the resistance of those who are and think differently, and who oppose a fake unanimity. Being a window through which people see Havana also suggests to me the way people abroad see us as a country.”

Yunior Yanes, Espiral, 2013

Courtesy Yunior Yanes and Cuban American Phototheque

The third group is comprised of photographs in which references to icons of Cuban culture activate narratives directly associated with the idiosyncrasies and recent history of the island. Included in this group are works like El puente, Censura, and Plegaria or La soledad del Apostol (all 2013).

El puente is taken in the José Martí anti-imperialist tribune, located on the Malecón,” says Yanes. “It is a place with a lot of symbolism, from a political perspective, about the recent years of the Revolution. Paradoxically, a large number of people who saw the photo in Havana saw it as a bridge, which suggests the idea of ​​connection, going from one bank to the other, the arrow indicating the way.”

Hidden Havana City will be open to the public at the Cuban American Phototheque Foundation through October 22.

Janet Batet (b. Havana, Cuba) is an independent curator, art critic, and essayist currently living in Miami. She is a former researcher and curator at the Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales (Development Center of Visual Arts) and a former professor at the Instituto Superior de Arte (Higher Institute of Art), both in Havana. She is passionate about contemporary art, Latin American art, and new technology. Her articles on art practices are regularly published in Art Nexus, Art Pulse, Arte al Dia, Art Experience: NYC, and El Nuevo Herald, among others.