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American photographer Michael Dweck makes history in Cuba-twice
The Feb. 24th opening of Dweck’s “Habana Libre” attracted more than 2,300 guests, according to museum officials – five times that of the museum’s original estimates. Photo: Courtesy of Sergio Leyva Seiglie.

HAVANA.- Michael Dweck had already made history before the doors opened on his exhibit at the Fototeca Museum on Friday. Good thing since he showed up late and upon arrival, expecting 300 or so guests, was greeted by a crowd of about 2,000 Artists, Ambassadors, and Media outside, who weren’t allowed in until he got there. Some rule he didn’t know about. By the time the doors closed, before AP could run their interview with Alex Castro, before the after party (at art collector Jay Rodriguez’ penthouse apartment overlooking Old Havana), Dweck made history again.

As the first contemporary artist to be invited by the Cuban government to host a solo museum show, and also being one of the most celebrated artists in the history of Cuba’s largest photography museum, Fototeca de Cuba, Dweck made sure to please. Unlike the book’s original images, which were exhibited in the US, Europe and Tokyo using black-and-white silver gelatin paper, the exhibit’s large-scale photographs were printed on Kraft paper using a wax-based toner technique that Dweck developed specifically for this show.

"As I’ve been given the honor of being the first American contemporary artist invited to exhibit in Cuba, I felt I had to present something even more special as a show of gratitude,” Dweck said. “For me, the warmth and depth of the paper honors the beauty of Cuba’s past, the heat of the people and a broad reflection of their spirit, their future, and their potential. Day-in and day-out, Cubans are preserving much more than the metal of old cars, they’re preserving a lost way of life and I wanted to honor that in a small way.”

The Feb. 24th opening of Dweck’s “Habana Libre” attracted more than 2,300 guests, according to museum officials – five times that of the museum’s original estimates. This stands as the largest crowd for any opening in the 26-year history of the venue, whose permanent collection contains works by Cuba’s most renowned photographers, including Raúl Corrales, Alberto Korda, Osvaldo Salas, Ernesto Fernández and Mario García Joya.

Among those in attendance for the 3-hour affair of art and mojitos were artists Carlos Quintana, Fabelo, Rachel Valdez, Alex Castro and Camilo Guevara (sons of Fidel and Che), writers Miguel Barnet, musicians Kelvis Ochoa and Roberto Fonseca, filmmakers Pichi and Pavel Giroud, and Cuban supermodel Januaria. Also joining Dweck and his family were the Cuban Cultural Ministers, ambassadors from Sweden, Italy, Spain and France, and celebrity chef, Sarah Saunders, who flew in from London to cater the affair.

And Dweck wasn't the only art, "the music by Cuban DJ.Joy was the perfect complement, a parallel actually - he played a contemporary mix of bolero, mambo, timba, early Cuban jazz, afro-son and rumba - the whole groove of contrasts pierced the party and made it a hit” said Rene Bernal.

Art critics and curators attribute the opening’s broad popularity – as well as the book’s – to the depth of themes in “Habana Libre,” which flirts equally with image, social structure and politics.

"I think the broad appeal lies is the balance between the intimate and the political, said Solveig Font, curator. “I mean, it takes something complex to attract Supermodels and Cultural Ministers to the same opening. “It’s crazy to think that I came here in 2009 knowing no one; having no expectations. And now I’m back here with hundreds of friends to share this joy with me,” Dweck said in an address to the crowd. “It’s an amazing surprise.”

"What Dweck has done is genius," Artist Rachel Valdez said. "It's one thing to expose Americans to parts of Cuba they'd never seen, but he exposed the same to many Cubans. He’s teaching everyone to look past the propaganda of both sides."

“Michael Dweck: Habana Libre,” released in October by Italy’s Damiani Editore wasn’t meant as overt political or social forecasting or commentary, according to Dweck, but rather as “rich narrative arc about the remarkable privilege and creative spirit enjoyed by a tight-knit group of Cuban artists and intellectuals.”

To gain access to this world, Dweck – who previously published the well-received collections “The End: Montauk, N.Y.” and “Mermaids” – regularly visited the private studios and homes of dozens of Cuban artists, musicians and actors over the course of seven trips to Havana.

Artist Victor Sanchez said he hopes Dweck will be open to making seven more visits. “Michael showed up at a time when things were just starting to change,” he said. “For me, these photographs are documents of transition – and hopefully a vision of what the future of Cuba will look like.”

The “Michael Dweck: Habana Libre” exhibition will remain at the Fototeca de Cuba Museum until March 24 at which point Dweck will donate all 52 photographs to the Fototeca Museum and the Cuban people. The gift’s value is estimated around $500,000.

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