Cuban-themed exhibits abound in Miami. Images of old Havana and its antique cars are standard images related to the island. At Wynwood’s Filtro, however, photographer Ghada Khunji’s main focus is the life of Cuban farm workers in Pinar del Rio, the main tobacco-producing region in the country. Her photos are part of the gallery’s current exhibit, Cuba: Time Stands Still. Filtro is one of the only spaces in Miami dedicated to exhibiting photography and film. It is owned and curated by Lourdes Guerra, an ex-software engineer who now owns an advertising agency in addition to running the gallery. Filtro: A Foto Space has been in Wynwood for two and a half years and has seen many successes in its history. “The mission of this gallery is to show photos that make an impact on people’s lives”, explains Guerra. “I started this space because I have a passion for photography and film. I want to open doors for photographers and filmmakers by offering the walls of this space as a place to show their art.”
For the gallery’s annual exhibit about Cuba, Guerra chose to show Ghada Khunji’s Cuba Series, photos that document the lives of Cuban tobacco farmers. The images are nostalgic; muted colors evoke the feeling of an older era. Kunji shows desolation and loneliness through the composition and framing of her subjects. A farm worker’s piercing green eyes stare at Khunji’s camera through the dilapidated frame of a fence. Another worker lays asleep in a shanty on a mattress near the door. In another photo, a woman sits at a rocking chair inside a run down home. The images are simple and humble, much like Khunji’s subjects. “Most people think of Cohibas when they think of Cuban cigars, which are really expensive”, explains Guerra. “What they don’t think about is what it takes to make those Cohibas. No one sees how the tobacco farmers live.” Having come to the U.S. from Cuba at age 15 and having worked the tobacco fields herself as a child, this series is close to Guerra’s own experience. While Filtro is not a space that predominantly shows Cuban or Latin American artists (Khunji, for example, is from Bahrain), the Cuban theme is important for Guerra. “I curate a show about Cuba every year mainly because I’m Cuban, but also as a dedication to my parents,” says Guerra.
Cuba: Time Stands Still also includes photos by Puerto Rican photographer Angel Enrique Valentin, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in feature photography. His series of photos, Movements, complements Kunji’s work by showing yes, Havana, as well as other images of life on the island under Castro’s rule. One of the most striking photos of the series is One Last Look, an image of a Cuban balsero crying as he looks back one last time at his country… a small American Flag in his hands. The series also includes images of Cubans fleeing the island in whatever makeshift rafts they can come up with. These images are the most desperate of the series and truly show that many people will do anything, even risk their life drifting at sea, to escape Castro’s regime.
Rounding out the exhibit is Juan Carlos Zaldivar’s film installation, Dos Rios (Two Rivers), which documents the Cuban-American filmmaker’s experience of the Elian Gonzalez drama. By what can only be called a twist of fate, Zalidvar happened to be present in Cuba during the demonstrations in Havana calling for the little boy’s return to the island. After flying back to Miami, Zaldivar documented the city’s Cuban exile community as they kept vigil the night that the boy was to be taken into custody by INS. Zaldivar’s film documents both events as they unfold, one on each side of the screen, in order to depict what he describes as “being caught in the center of a fervent ideological war. One that forces us to take sides and, ultimately, alienates us.”
Filtro has the edge of being the only space in Wynwood whose focus is on photography and film. “I believe in this,” says Guerra as she stands in her space and looks at the photos on her walls. “I believe in the photographers and filmmakers and in what they do.” Guerra supports the space herself, so running it is truly a labor of love. “ I don’t want to sell this work for myself.” Guerra explains.” It’s mostly about selling the work for the artists. I want to see them get a return on their investment, and I want people who walk in here to be touched in some way by the photos they see in this gallery.” With the caliber of the work and Guerra’s dedication to the space, it would be hard not to.
By Mia Saavedra