Art & Oppression: Artist's Statement

Karen Novotny

Cuba Now

When a populist revolution transformed Cuba to a socialist state, there was a short window of opportunity when some Cubans — mostly those with money — emigrated to the U.S., Venezuela, and other parts of the world.

Most Cubans, however, were not able to leave the island, or they chose to stay for political or personal reasons. Among those who chose to stay, I found one couple whose home symbolized the decision not to emigrate. I began a project, lasting four years, to document the evidence that their home – once an elegant, well-appointed Belle-Epoch mansion – was an outward sign of the changes in Cuba over the 50 years since the revolution.

These images reveal the disintegration of their home and furnishings, not through neglect, but because in socialist Cuba there have never been materials available to make repairs. Their home is a testament to the influences of earlier tastes and cultures in the Caribbean and the transition to another way of life.

I asked the couple, whose family members emigrated over 50 years ago, why they chose to stay in Havana. The wife replied, “We didn’t think it (the socialist state) would last this long.”