Habana Siglo XXI: Inventory of a city
Born and raised in Havana, Damaris Betancourt’s emotional bond with her hometown remains unchanged. In the last ten years Damaris has been working on the photo essay «Habana Siglo XXI».
Havana is collapsing, and its agony is long and silent.
There is no rubble; there are ruins.
San Cristóbal de La Habana, as it was called in 1519 by the conqueror Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, celebrated its 500th anniversary in November 2019. This event was for many a point of reflection on its present and on its urban and architectural future. Havana, a city that achieved architectural splendor during the Republic’s scant 56 years and was synonymous with modernity, has stood still in time since 1959, and is now slowly disappearing day by day.
Born and raised in Havana, Damaris Betancourt’s emotional bond with her hometown remains unchanged. This, despite the fact that she has now lived for 27 years, more than half of her life, outside the borders of Cuba. In the last ten years Damaris has been working on the photo essay «Habana Siglo XXI». With this documentation she intend to report on the state of this city, and to represent the idea, that the city is not merely a “stage” where life takes place upon it, but collectively an agent with a great influence in shaping the development of those who live there. An environment can be both: the cause and the consequence of the becoming, acting and existence of people. With this work the photographer aims to draw the public’s attention to this unique immobile society through a de-ideologized point of view. The objective of this series is to become a call to reflect on architecture as an environment in which an individual develops, forms his vision, discovers and shapes his spectrum of perspectives, his relationship to the world and his cognitive and aesthetic appreciation.
Far from spreading a frivolous idea of destruction, Damaris wants to bear witness to Havana today; to represent its daily life without degrading it. She intend her photos to draw attention to a city, that is collapsing right now, with the same cadence and intensity with which its inhabitants are fading away.
As the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset said: “City is first of all a square, an agora, discussion, eloquence“. And therefore it is also history, memory, and a statement. The last 62 years of Havana should not be understood as TIME, but as WAIT. Since time is an essential good that we possess and fill with experiences, achievements, changes and projects, these last six decades in Havana have been defined, on the contrary, by indifference, inactivity, inertia and disregard. An irrefutable proof that a life in the midst of ruins conditions people.
Havana is collapsing, and if it disappears the heritage and the founding story of a nation will similarly vanish. It is my purpose, my responsibility, to draw up visual inventory of the city, and through these photos to bequeath a testimony of what Havana has turned into.
May these photographs become more than just compositions, but rather authentic glances.