Nirmala Nataraj (San Francisco Gate) writes about photographer Milly West and her new show “Cuba for Keeps.” This exhibit also includes the videography of two young, Cuban video artists: Ignacio Barrios and Reynier Leyva Novo. The exhibition runs through December 28, 2013, at Krowswork Gallery, located at 480 23rd Street in Oakland, California. Nataraj writes:
Photographer Milly West has been creating work in Cuba for more than two decades. And although her work reflects this particular time in Cuban history (post-Fidel and post-revolution), her intimate snapshots of Cuban people are gorgeous rejoinders to the sometimes oversize aura of the country when it comes to the prevailing global consciousness.
Jasmine Moorhead, the founder of Oakland’s Krowswork Gallery (which features contemporary photography and video work), says that West’s latest exhibit, “Cuba for Keeps,” features “the domestic underbelly, the motherly side of Cuba. She avoids all of the overwrought Cuban cliches and finds something of the defiance and resilience of the Cuban spirit.”
Before working in Cuba, West had been photographing in the Mississippi Delta for years. “My work has often been recognized for its look into the lives of humble people living in humble ways, struggling financially, yet still making it,” she says. West’s work in Cuba began in 1996, when she planned an art tour of the country with the Center for Cuban Studies. “One thing that serves me very well as a photographer is my willingness to ask to enter. The answer is always yes,” West says. “There is this closeness and sense of a dialogue – the relationships are comfortable and open.”
After more than 30 trips to Cuba to take photographs and collect art for her gallery back home, West’s inspiration is still constantly emerging. The exhibit documents a close-knit community of self-taught artists and also accompanies a book of the same name, where “you will see images of people in their homes,” West says. “But whether artists or not, these are people I know. Big Dora, Ignacio and the young woman from Matanzas are not artists, but they are in their environment, and that theme runs throughout. Every artist in the book is at home.”
The photographs range from the mundane and detailed to the sweeping and panoramic. Whether she’s capturing images of animals on a roadside, men in body paint in preparation for a Santeria ceremony or people simply inhabiting their environments, West’s photographs evoke the multisensory experience of the country. In addition, color has always been a fascinating draw for West. “In Cuba, the use of Caribbean blue is traditional,” she says. “A house painted brightly or clothes that stand out due to color or design is meant to announce something. Like, I am here.”
The exhibit also includes the videography of Ignacio Barrios and Reynier Leyva Novo, two younger video artists who represent a bridge between Cuba’s present and future. Moorhead says their work is “of the Internet age, where the idea of landed boundaries are less important, and yet in the case of Cuba, must still be responded to because of our respective governments’ intractability.”
For more information on the gallery, you may call (510) 229-7035 or see www.krowswork.com.