As if there were not enough museums in Havana, they continue to dedicate important public buildings to these dead places. And I speak literally when I say “dead places.” The more I walk through the city the more new museums I find; but their common denominator is that almost all of them are empty. Each new building meant to be a museum is a cold, depersonalized place, stripped of any kind of affective meaning. The city’s human essence stops growing and cedes space to this epidemic of theatrical sets meant to display a distorted and prostituted image, completely foreign to how we really are.
Many years ago, when this tendency to establish museums all over the place began, the authorities based such an endeavor on the idea that each municipality should have a “cultural module” that included – among other things – a house of culture, a library and museums, with the aim of elevating the general culture of the citizens and connecting them to the community’s values. This was a political goal mandated by high level policy, so they began to proliferate, from commemorative plaques to “birthplace homes”–not the Apostle’s (a place venerated by almost all Cubans everywhere)–but of any figure of middling or no importance who facilitated the fulfillment of the cultural technocrats’ directives.
At this point almost any event, subject or object is museum-worthy in Cuba. Some of our museums are dedicated to high goals: education, literacy, natural history, etc. Other are more tied to ideological showcases: the revolution, the war march, and others along that line. There are also the ones that are more about promotion and commercialization: cigars, rum, fans… the list is almost interminable: we have museums of cars, firemen, miniatures, dance, decorative arts, weapons, stamps and even a Napoleonic one, despite that the diminutive European emperor never set foot on this Island or even mentioned it.
We have the important Fine Arts Museum, with its buildings of Cuban art and universal art, the very beautiful Museum of the Capitanes Generales [Commanders in Chief], the Memorial to Jose Martí in the Plaza Cívica; and also innumerable art galleries, not a few commemorative parks with statues, benches and ornamental plants (always closed with locked gates), and colonial forts. Nor can we forget the modestly so-called “houses” which usually are old colonial mansions divided up into rooming houses, now carefully restored after their numerous dwellers were “resettled,” and which are now obliged to perform important cultural duties. So we have houses for Africa, Guaysamin, Wifredo Lam, Alejo Carpentier, Benito Juarez, Simón Bolivar, Alexander Humboldt, etc.
Okay, just so that it’s clear that there’s always room for another little museum, the CDR museum was recently opened, right there on Obispo Street between Habana and Aguiar. As you might expect, it’s a place that Cubans hardly visit. This all makes me think: how did the CDR become an institution worthy of a museum? What treasures are held by this place, beyond photographs—the ones of the innumerable marches for whatever reason, or of the vociferous and shameful “repudiation meetings” held every September 28 by the CDR guards, or of the vulgar collective bashings? In any case, I never saw such a deserted museum right in the middle of such a lively street.
The door guard, until then comfortably leaning against the wall, became agitated when I took pictures of the façade. And he told me that—unless I had authorization—I could not take pictures of a plaque that “adorns” the entry, showing an allegorical caricature of imperialism, always kicked in the rear and knocked down by the glorious CDR. Around us, some tourists were taking lots of pictures, but my bearing and looks are accusedly Cuban and that, of course, is what excludes me.
Very nicely, pretending an interest I didn’t even remotely feel, I asked him to tell me how many exhibition halls the museum has. “Three,” he told me, “the ground floor, the mezzanine, and the upper floor.” “Thank you.”
Three halls, my friends, only three halls to gather together in photographs almost 50 years of national shame!
February 15, 2008