What is the most correct image of the island of Cuba today? From a recent article on the independent online platform Cubanet – written by Jorge Olivera Castilo – we deduce that the island is characterized by a hard struggle for daily existence. There is an enormous shortage of food with only the black market as the only lifeline. There are even fears of a deterioration in living conditions in the coming months as a result of the criminal sanctions imposed on Cuba by the American government. However, in the photographs Vincent Delbrouck made of a group of adolescents in the La Vibora district, there is little evidence of this context. Delbrouck has been visiting Cuba since 1997 and since then he has regularly travelled back to what he calls his ‘adoptive country’. When he returned in 2014 after a longer intermission, he felt like ‘like a second chapter of my creative life there, surrounded by a more feminine and delicate energy […] I have finally found my nest in Havana’s suburbs’.
In the spring of 2018 Delbrouck met a group of young people in the El Chivo park in La Vibora, a quiet district of Havana. The girls asked him if he wanted to take pictures: ‘Suddenly they were there: Leslie, Oscar, Gabriela, Solanch, Addiel, Leonardo, Oris, Sharawi, Marcel. I photographed them with open enthusiasm, a bit jealous but at ease. In them I found what I had been trying to formulate for years: an infectious joy […] The teenagers Delbrouck met are from the generation born in the so-called ‘Special Period’. This refers to the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, then Cuba’s (economic) ally, which resulted in dire shortages of food and other products. Following the Cuban Revolution that led to the introduction of a communist regime by Fidel Castro in 1959, the United States had maintained a trade embargo since the 1960s. The Internet has become more accessible to many Cubans through the legalisation of home networks and the import of routers, but the government decides to which website they have access. Freedom of expression and journalistic and artistic freedom is still limited, and tolerance of the LGBT community has hardly improved since the 1950s. However, all these things hardly seem to affect Delbrouck’s teenagers. What does their future look like? No real plans for the future here,’ says Delbrouck, ‘the country does not have the ability to offer careers. You should know it and better lie on the floor and kiss your girlfriend or your boyfriend, starting to create your own path of little freedoms in this harsh world of decay.’
Vincent Delbrouck felt a bond with the group: the differences in age and culture disappeared and he became part of them: ‘I was not just a stranger or an observer. We shared our feelings, our friendship, our love’. He photographed and filmed them after school, dressed in their compulsory uniforms, when they were hanging around in the park or on the beach: laughing, chatting, listening to music, smoking, drinking champu (diluted rum), making love… all testifying to an all-encompassing, liberating energy. Vincent Delbrouck’s photographs are a testament to the eternally innovative life and resilience present in youth and a hopeful testimony to the potential that exists to transcend the limitations of circumstances and to create a better future. His photo project ‘The youth of La Vibora’ is a testimony to this.
Vincent Delbrouck (AKA V.D.) (Brussels, Belgium, 1975) makes very personal work that is a mix of autobiography and fiction. He describes his photo series as ‘poetic documentaries’. He often combines his photographs with his own texts and drawings and incorporates them into collages. His photo books have a (fictitious) diary-like character. In 2008 his first book Beyond History (Havana 1998–2006) appeared. This book won the Prix de Livre d’auteur at Les Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles in 2009.
Cuba, and in particular the capital Havana, is a common thread in Delbrouck’s life and work. Another important country for him is Nepal, where he and his family spent a year in the capital Kathmandu in 2009. His Himalayan project resulted in three photo books: As Dust Alights (2013), Some Windy Trees (2013) and Dzogchen (2015). In recent years he has travelled again to Cuba, where the series about teenagers shown here originated, among other things. In 2015 he was awarded the Outset / Unseen Exhibition Fund, and the jury report stated: ‘While combining the physicality of the analogue imprint with an intuitive and instinctive way of working, Delbrouck creates installations as a flux of life’. Previous solo exhibitions by Vincent Delbrouck have been shown at the Fomu in Antwerp (2015) and the Musée de la Photographie in Charleroi, among others. A publication accompanying this exhibition will be published by Hatje Cantz.
A preview of this work will be shown at at the Photolux Festival in Lucca (Italy), taking place 16 November to 8 December 2019.