Vincent Delbrouck | Champú. The Youth of La Vibora

Leslie, December 2018 © Vincent Delbrouck
Leslie, December 2018 © Vincent Delbrouck

Location: Palazzo Ducale, Cortile Carrara, 1
Hours: Monday to Friday 3 – 7:30 pm / Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 7:30 pm


Curated by Nanda van den Berg
in cooperation with Huis Marseille, Amsterdam.

What would give us an accurate picture of the island of Cuba today? On the independent online podium Cubanet, a recent article by Jorge Olivera Castilo depicted a country characterized by the battle for daily survival, with food in acutely short supply and the black market offering the only hope of finding it. He also voiced fears that living conditions were set to worsen over the coming months as a result of punitive sanctions that the US government intends to impose. These wider concerns, however, seem to cast little shadow over the photographs that Vincent Delbrouck made of a group of adolescents in the La Vibora neighbourhood of Havana. Delbrouck first visited Cuba, which he calls his “adoptive country”, in 1997 and has returned regularly ever since. When he revisited Cuba after a longer absence in 2014, he said that it felt “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 youngsters in the El Chivo park in La Vibora, a quiet neighbourhood in Havana. The girls asked him whether he wanted to take photos: “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.” He felt connected to them; the differences in their age and culture fell away, and he became one of the group. The teenagers that Delbrouck met are part of a generation that was born in the so-called ‘special period’, the years that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union – then Cuba’s economically – and which resulted in serious shortages of foodstuffs and other products. Cuba had suffered such shortages before; In 1959 the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro had replaced a dictatorship with a communist regime, and the US quickly imposed a trade embargo. The internet has recently become more accessible for many Cubans through the legalisation of domestic networks and the importation of routers, but it is still the government which decides which websites can be seen. Freedom of expression is limited, as are journalistic and artistic freedoms, and attitudes towards the LHBT community are almost as intolerant as they were in the 1950s. Still, these issues do not seem to trouble Delbrouck’s teenagers very much. How do they see the future? “No real plans for the future here,” says Delbrouck. “The country is unable to offer careers. You’re better off accepting it, lying on the floor and kissing your girlfriend or your boyfriend – starting to create your own path of little freedoms in this harsh world of decay.”

Vincent Delbrouck felt closely linked to the group: “I was not just a stranger or an observer. We shared our feelings, our friendship, our love.” He photographed and filmed them after school, in their obligatory school uniforms, as they hung around in the park or on the beach: laughing, chatting, listening to music, smoking, drinking champú (diluted rum), kissing… and showing an indefatigable, liberating energy in everything they did. Vincent Delbrouck’s photographs are a testament to the indestructible vigour and resilience of the young, and hopeful evidence of the potential for people to rise above circumstances and constraints and to make a better future. Delbrouck’s photograph project Champú. The youth of La Vibora, with its portraits of ordinary daily life, bears witness to this energy in today’s Cuba, where the word ‘hope’ has all but lost its meaning.

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