Illustrious Photographer Michael Dweck Infiltrates Cuba’s Subversive Art Scene

Celebrated American photographer Michael Dweck’s uninhibited, previously unpublished pictures reveal Cuba’s passionate artistic community, thriving under a regime that limits creative freedom and handicaps those who openly oppose the communist party’s doctrine. Dweck’s new book, Habana Libre, reveals a secretive collective of friends based in the country's capital, making work that treads a fine line between conceptual and subversive, yet is not seen as rebellious by the authorities. Described by Dweck as a “contradictory creative class in an apparently classless society,” the group lives a vibrant bohemian lifestyle, meeting covertly to exchange ideas. Having left a career in advertising in 2002, Dweck came to prominence with his images of laid-back surf kids featured in his book The End: Montauk, N.Y. We caught up with the Brooklyn native to discuss socialism and seduction.

This glamorous lifestyle seems at odds with the image we have of what it’s like to live in Cuba.
These people travel freely, have nice cars, big studios and a lot of assistants. They sell their artworks in other countries; they show at Art Basel, some have work in MoMA and the Tate. The government allows it even though Cuba is supposed to be classless. The regime doesn’t admit that this creative class exists, but I think they also realize that without culture you don’t have a society.

Did you experience any problems being an American?
At first it was impossible to get permission to shoot. I met with everybody I could, I sent more and more paperwork, filled out forms, got to know the Castro children and even asked them to help. Finally, I met the culture minister and eventually he told me actually there just wasn’t a visa for an American to do what I wanted to do. He gave me his business card and told me if anyone stopped me to show it to them and I would be okay. And I was. 

What was the image of Cuba you wanted to get across in the book?
Cuba is like a game. You get played with. Nothing is on the surface, it’s all code and everything is a subtext of something else. I wanted to show this secret life of the creative class, but the subtext is an allegorical narrative of seduction.

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