While studying a particular piece of art, an art historian has to acquire a holistic education on not only the physical aspects of the piece but what was going on in the artist’s world during its creation. This is of particular importance with politically motivated pieces, and in “Archives of Consciousness: 6 Cuban Artists,” which opened on Jan. 24 in the Fairfield University Art Museum’s Walsh Gallery in the Quick Center for the Arts, and which will be on view until May 15th
Presented by the museum, and curated by Dr. Lillian Guerra and Dr. Arianne Faber Kolb, these curators understand the importance of seeing all aspects of a culture to fully understand its art. Thus, there is a whole array of Cuban-related content and presentations this semester for those interested in having a multi-faceted understanding of the art, and the world the artists were living and working in. To understand Cuba’s relationship to media and how they receive news and content, the panel “Cuba Today: Internet Access, the Paquete, and the New Filmmakers” was held on Feb. 7.
At least to me, Cuba is never at the forefront of my mind. If put under some pressure all I’d rattle off about Cuba is somewhere along the lines of, “They’re a country frozen in time and thus have some pretty cool old cars. Oh, and I guess the whole Missile Crisis thing.” Not a total portrait of a nation that has its own culture, traditions and national identity. Opening the panel, Michelle Farrell, PhD, of the Fairfield University Modern Languages Department, warned us of this view. She said that Cuba is not a box that is just opened whenever US policies allow it. While we see Cuba as isolated and frozen in time, it’s a nation that’s constantly changing and evolving in the confinement of the space they have.
This is especially aided by the almost democratic acquisition of media. In the United States, as you might know, the media is a capitalist enterprise. If you want to watch “Game of Thrones,” you have to pay $14.99/month for HBO. If you’re more interested in “Bojack Horseman,” then that’s a $9/month Netflix charge. Or maybe you’re not a television person and just want to read the New York Times by the fireplace like an elegant lady, that’s $15.99/month, plus whatever the cost of the wine you’re drinking. When you begin to add it all up media and knowledge are pricey in the states!
Yet, Cubans have figured out a system where you could get one terabyte of content for just around two dollars, also known as the Paquete, which artist Julia Weist on the panel focused her work on.
I know you might be asking, “Great, but what’s a terabyte?” I get it, I’m known as the tech wizard in my household and it’s only because my response to anything breaking is, “Just turn it on and off” and that hasn’t failed me yet. Basically, after some light research, a terabyte is about 1,000 gigabytes. But, again, what in the world does that mean? Think of it like this: a movie, like a big hefty and long feature film is about three gigabytes. Meaning, that on this one flash drive, a Cuban could buy about 300 or so movies.
As Weist shows us, the Paquete is not just movies. For two dollars you receive an entire array of different media content. Do you want magazines? Bam! Do you want some music videos? Bam! Do you want some pirated HBO shows? Bam! The Paquete has it all. Due to the lack of piracy laws in Cuba and the lack of a reliable internet connection, this is nearly the only way Cubans can interact with the media in the way we do and a lot cheaper.
This might seem like a bulletproof endeavor and you as someone who might be paying $5/month just for a student Hulu and Spotify subscription might be jealous of this. But this system comes from a country that still has a lot of flaws.
The other two filmmakers on the panel show us these flaws closer. Yaima Pardo’s film points out that though the Paquete has filled some media gaps in Cuba, this doesn’t fix the flaws in the system. As the lack of reliable internet connection has created a society where Cuba’s most highly educated, college students, don’t know what Facebook is or at least 80-90 percent of them don’t. Using interviews and dynamic flashing images, Pardo is able to portray the work that still needs to be done in Cuba.
Yet out of all the panelists, it was Javier Labrador Deulofeu who spoke most clearly to the issues Cuba is still having with media censorship, as his film “Santa & Andrés” was actually banned in Cuba for one particular scene. This scene shows a revolutionary writer’s house get searched and destroyed by the government, and though the government finds none of his writing hidden, they still proceed to throw eggs at him as the gentleman cries. Yeah, not a great look for the government and understandable why they wanted this film hidden from the larger Cuban society.
Yet, though banned on Cuban screens, the film still found its way onto the Paquete for audiences to see, as it’s hard, or nearly impossible for the government to monitor every film that finds its way onto the Paquete. This allows a select amount of Cubans to view the government in its correct light, censorship be damned.