Dregs With Sugar

There is a popular novel by Cuban author Wendy Guerra called Todos se Van, translated into English as Everyone Leaves. That’s Cuba. Whether we speak of capitalist investors and local elites after the “Triumphal Revolution” or of Communist Block support after the fall of the Soviet Union or of one’s own friends and family looking for opportunities abroad, it is a fact of life – everyone leaves. And what is left is what the people left behind use to craft their daily life. So there are cars from the 1940s and 1950s still running strong, it is said, after as much as two million miles. Buildings are shored up and subdivided and added to and painted and plastered to accommodate the continuities of life. In the midst of it all, there is art and beauty and generosity. Dance troupes, for example, hone their performances in an abandoned movie theatre, whose rusted-out roof provides sundrenched spotlights. Cubans are masters of making do – and making art in the process. 

The eight featured images were made in an old sugar factory, built in 1917 by the Hershey chocolate company. It was nationalized after the 1959 revolution and finally abandoned in 2002. Rather than documentary photographs, I have composed painterly abstracts in the spirit of the Cuban people, who are masters of making something sweet and beautiful out of whatever is left to them – dregs with sugar. These images can be printed on glossy metallic paper, giving them a quality that evokes the gleam of the 1950s automobiles that fill the streets.

Additional images document the life of the resilient Cuban people.