Leandro Feal – Hotel Roma
Hotel Roma, 2017 / Full HD Video / Length: 00:52:35
Hotel Roma is a stop motion video by Cuban photographer and artist Leandro Feal. Here Feal discusses with Modern Forms this and other recent works as well as his current creative protest against newly instituted restrictions to freedom of expression in Cuba.
Q: You are primarily a photographer. What do you see as the ambitions and responsibilities of your photographic work within the context of Cuban society right now?
A: One of my main objectives is to visually record the historical moment we are living through, in Cuba right now. Undoubtedly, the most important Cuban photography of recent times was the epic photography of the 60s, the photography of the Revolution: that generation managed to project into the world the image of a new country. Sixty years later, my goal is to create a space in which we can imagine the new country that we all want to build. I think we have to see Cuba with different eye and that is my responsibility.
Q: Can you tell us about this work Hotel Roma? What is Hotel Roma? Who are these people?
A: Hotel Roma is a film inspired by and in dialogue with the work of Agnes Vardà, especially with Salut les Cubans, a documentary made using stop motion technique that she shot in Havana in 1963, that documents the liberal, cosmopolitan lifestyle of a particular section of the Havanan community: university students, intellectuals, businessmen, repatriated Cubans, music lovers and tourists.
It gathers about twenty thousand photographs taken in a bar called Roma, located on the roof of an old hotel with the same name, in the heart of Old Havana. After the restoration of Cuba-US relations the island began to experience an economic and social opening up. This atmosphere of rebirth of the last two years also encourage the sense of sexual liberation that is evident in the film. The Roma bar was also an example of the cultural impact of a new, rudimentary market economy.
Almost all the action occurs within the framework of the Havana night, which has been politically charged subject within the rigid narrative of the Cuban Revolution. That’s why this work is a tribute an artistic tradition that delves into that subject, including works such as: PM (1961), a documentary censored by the revolutionary authorities; Tres tristes tigres (1968), a novel by Guillermo Cabrera Infante that has never been published in Cuba and Before Night Falls (1992), the autobiography of dissident writer Reynaldo Arenas. Hotel Roma takes the spirit of these marginalized accounts of the Cuban society into mainstream.
Q: You’ve previously presented Hotel Roma with The Cadillacs Leave: From Reform to Counter-Reformation – a work comprising 100 photographs with a more overtly political subject matter. Can you tell us about this pairing and how you balance social and political subject matter?
A: From the Reformation to the Counter-Reformation was the series that preceded Hotel Roma. It was created in 2016, the year that Cuba’s relations with the United States were reestablished, which gave rise to the historical events that I was able to document: Barack Obama’s visit, the Rolling Stones concert, the screening, for the first time since the Revolution, of Hollywood movies in Cuba, the Chanel parade directed by Karl Largerfeld and, for me, the final chapter in the epic story of the Revolution, the death of Fidel Castro.
While I was creating a portrait of the new and ‘reforming’ Cuba from all these events, at I inverted this strategy by entrenching myself, at Hotel Roma, in a sector of Havana society and foreigners who wanted to have fun, at particular place in the city, living through this moment of Counter-Reformation in a counter-cultural and hedonistic bubble.
The social and political theme balances very easily: in Cuba everything is managed by the State and every action is politicized, from shopping, to whom you hang out with, to what you think.
Q: You are currently in an unofficial show that coincides with the current Havana Biennale. As I understand it – your work and the show – are creative protests against a new law passed by the Cuban government – Decree 349. Can you tell us what it is? And what work you made in response?
A: Decree 349 is totally related to the death of Fidel. Fidel, whose word was law, clearly defined the cultural politics of revolution defined with 1961 speech Words to the Intellectuals. His death leaves a power vacuum, so the government is forced to legislate the risky area of culture, to censor and to decide who is an artist and who is not. The decree controls the political contents of art as a condition of the economic rights of the artist, ringing alarm bells for both the local and international art community. An elite troop of government inspectors will enforce this crucial decree.
The ideal artist, Decree 349 seems to say, is one dedicated to landscape painting. The work that I present in the exhibition is called The Inspector’s Intrusion . It presents documentation of the actions by artists opposed to the decree (Cuban artists play Football – La plástica cubana se dedica al fútbol) and the official response to these works. The piece is set in an imagined space within the Ministry of Culture in Cuba, in which the inspectors deliver their finding, in high bureaucratic style, to the public.
Leandro Feal (b. 1986) lives and works in Havana, Cuba. He is a graduate from the San Alejandro National Academy of Fine Arts (2006, Havana, Cuba) and from the Cátedra de Arte de Conducta run by Tania Bruguera (2007). Solo exhibition include: “Blow Up, Blow Up” (along with Joan Fontcuberta) (2016, El Apartamento gallery, Havana); “Vivir la fotografía sin vivir de ella”, (2015, Centro Provincial de Artes Plásticas y Diseño, Havana); “Donde nadie es exclusivo” (2013, Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales, Havana); “Lugar común, lugar extraño” (2015, Bilbao Arte, Bilbao).
Leandro Feal, Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leandro.feal/?hl=en
The Art Newspaper on the Cuban government’s Decree 349 which further restricts freedom of expression in the country: https://www.theartnewspaper.com/preview/havana-biennial-s-opens-amid-controversy
Forbes on Feal’s work protesting Decree 249: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-art-idUSKCN1RS201
Siegfried Contemporary: https://www.siegfriedcontemporary.com/
Galleria Continua: https://www.galleriacontinua.com/artists/leandro-feal-104