Body Culture by Francisco Alcalá

It is so hard not to get involved in politics when discussing Cuba and its people. I try not to be drawn into that trap. My focus is on common people, those who walk the streets, and those who use public transportation and pay with Cuban pesos instead of CUC; those who might be doctors or teachers and get paid the equivalent to less than twenty-five dollars a month.

I like to walk the streets of Havana and talk with them and get a sense about their culture and how they perceive life.  Granted, my perspective is very limited, however I have a perspective. I perceive Cuban people full of energy, passion and an unlimited drive to make the best out of all the limitations they face.

In one of my walks in Havana Centro by narrow streets between Zanja and Neptuno, I saw a relatively small and dark place where various men where doing weights and I decided to enter. As friendly as they are, my first encounter was with Jean Pierre who saw me with my camera and asked what I was looking for. I explained him that I wanted to take some pictures of people doing their exercise. He said that I had to ask Virginia for permission. So I went to see Virginia, a mature woman with a hard look, white tank top T-shirt and painted eyebrows. Virginia resulted a very interesting lady who not only allowed me to take the pictures but also explained me that she has had colon cancer for many years and that every six hours she gets morphine shots to control the pain. You could see the marks on her upper arm. We became friends and she actually assisted me with the shooting.

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The gym is a dark warehouse with lighting only coming from the street door, dirt floor and improvised equipment probably done by the local blacksmith. But there seems that all the basic equipment for bodybuilding is there and many men are making use of it. Seeing their bodies you could tell that brand name equipment is not the key to success.

As I was photographing these men, it came to my mind that this body of work could actually be a good metaphor for the people of the Island. Because of the way our western economy works, we have grown accustomed to the idea that the solutions are outside of us and continuously we are looking for the best products or services that are going to help us perform better. People in the Cuba live a different reality; they have very limited access to the products and services that we take for granted. In spite of these limitations live goes on and people “grow their muscles” as much as we do with fancy equipment. That for sure raises interesting questions.

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