This exhibition explores the relationship between the United States and Cuba through photographs of the guayabera.  The inspiration for this exhibition is a piece by Milagros De La Torre piece titled “Guayabera” from her series “Bulletproof”.  The guayabera is a formal shirt that is common in Latin America, although its design roots are up for discussion, with many regions claiming it as their own.  The origin of the name guayabera too seems to be up for debate but in both instances it is believed that the name is Cuban.  Miguel Caballero, a Colombian famous for his bulletproof clothing, designs the guyabera in this image.  What I find so intriguing about this image and item is that the guyabera is a summer piece of clothing, light in weight and designed, it is hard to imagine this item of clothing being bulletproof or hiding armor under its seemingly transparent material.

Milagros De La Torre, Guayabera 2008

To start to get a handle on the relationship between the United States and Cuba one must first look at the Monroe Doctrine of 1821, which stated that efforts to colonize or interfere with states in the Americas, would be seen as acts of aggression requiring US intervention.  At the time Mexico had just revolted from Spain and creating its own government.  For the next century Mexico went through revolutions one of which having France place Maximilian I of Mexico (born Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph of Austria) as the head of state.  Because of the Monroe Doctrine, the US never recognized him.  Of note, the Monroe Doctrine did not stop the US from interfering with Mexico’s sovereignty (see Mexican-American war 1846-1848).  The first image we will look at is Francois Aubert’s Emperor Mazimilian’s Shirt.

Francois Aubert, Emperor Maximilian's Shirt 1867

Next we will consider the Spanish-American War or Cuba’s fight for independence.  In 1898 the United States went to war with Spain after Spain rejected American demands for resolution of the Cuban fight for independence.  It concluded with the signing of a treaty that gave the United States control of Cuba, the Philippians, Puerto Rico, and Guam.  It was the first time that the United States took on imperial power and had “colonies.” Although the United States had promised independence to Cuba the Platt Amendment, kept Cuba from true sovereignty, allowed for the US to “stabilize” Cuba Militarily and established an US Naval base in Cuba.

A company of the Cuban army, Pinar del Rio, Cuba - Strohmeyer & Wyman, 1899

There was a long pried of piece between the United States and Cuba for the coming years, so much so that some of Americas Greatest artist were know to spent much time there.  Famously Earnest Hemmingway and Walker Evans became friends from an original meeting in Havana, Cuba in May of 1933, Hemmingway moved there full time in 1939.

Hemingway at his home in Cuba, the Finca Vigía (now Museo Hemingway), circa 1947. JFK Library Collection

Walker Evans, starving cuban family 1933

On January 1, 1959 there was an armed revolt to overthrow Fulgencio Batista, a US backed dictator, by they 26th of July Movement led by Fidel Castro.

On April 17 – 19 1961 there was an unsuccessful attempt to over throw Castro by a US CIA trained force of exiled Cubans.  (on January 28, 2008 Mitt Romney wore a guayabera for a speech in Sweetwater Fl, to a mostly Cuban-American crowd,  the shirt was given to him by Luis Arrizureita one of the 1400 Cubans to storm the beaches at the bay of pigs)

Apr 21, 1961 - Central Press/Getty Images

Central Press/Getty Images - Apr 21, 1961

Mike Segar/reuters - January 28, 2008

On June 14, 1994 Castro appeared at the Cartagena de Indias Summit of Heads of State and Government, in the guayabera, for the first time shedding his official uniform.  This is the first public appearance Castro made out of his usual military uniform.

Liborio Noval - June 14th, 1994

In May of 2002 former President Jimmy Carter of the United States of America, visited Cuba.  Durning this visit Carter spent time with Castro.  This was the first time since 1959 that a current or former president has met with Castro.

GREGORY BULL AP - Monday, May 13, 2002

In my interpretation of this work, I stray from the Cuba-America theme and take a picture (in much the same style) of the shirt I wore when a stray bullet missed my head by a few inches, piercing the sliding glass door I sat in front of, crossing the room and embedding itself in a wall.

clark richard nelson, lucky bullet 2009

One thought on “Guayabera

  1. Well done Clark. I like the direction you went with this. I especially love the Shot of Hemingway and am reminded of his love for Latin culture. In reading your brief history of Cuban/American relations and the looking at the Walker Evans’ image, I am realizing how little I know about the situation in Cuba during the US occupation and am wondering if the revolution was more about living conditions during the US presence or more complicated political motives and situations. My guess is the more the later or a mixture of both, although, from what I do know, living conditions weren’t so great after. Thinking about this and looking at your initial images brings to mind the thoughtful and beautifully shot film by director Julian Schnabel, “Before Night Falls.” It’s about the Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas where the viewer witnesses the suffering imposed on artists, poets, free-thinkers and homosexuals, and how anyone considered bohemian was a threat to the communist regime.

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