Exhibition by Leandro Feal. Gallery Servando Cabrera, Street 23 corner to 10, Vedado / December 2017-January 2018
I see Leandro interested in the top model, follows it around the bar, tries to convince it with signs (a photographer doesn't need words), turns a dark corridor to Xiomara's house , prepares the camera suddenly, when, about to tighten the shutter in a paparazzi blast, the top model pronounces in perfect English: I don't speak with photographers. There is a thousandth of a second of misunderstanding, but Leandro's finger follows its automatic inertia to the obturator and, in a no less automatic gesture, the top model begins to pose before the invading burst of the Canon 5D Mark II. A scene so natural, that it shows that they were both born for this.
The photographer is Leandro Feal, the top model is Rianne Ten Haken, and the site is the bar Roma. From the street it is not intuited that the beautiful and ramshackle building of the old Hotel Roma in the centre of Havana could house a bar with the same name. Even less can one suspect its incredible roof, which dominates almost a third of the old city. The bar is open at all times, it is allowed to stay on the premises even if no drink is requested. Chris, its manager and founder, says that it is a mixture between La Guarida  and the house of Calaforra. This is equivalent to saying that it is a mixture between the most exclusive place in the city and the most democratic.
During the last two years what in military jargon are called "extraordinary events" have occurred in Havana (beyond the usual reguetón concerts). We have received with applause the former president of the United States Barack Obama, we have seen from afar a Chanel catwalk, we have been the set of one of the most corporate and inconsequential sagas of Hollywood films (Fast & Furious). We still don't think we've heard live Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the living myths of The Rolling Stones. We have known the cultural impact of the market.
Many of Leandro Feal's images are about these facts and the particular family that is created around Rome, rather than the biological one. Space embodies at the same time that frivolous and cosmopolitan spirit of quick and tourist events, but shocking (the new private economy, the sexual liberation of a generation, the institution of the night as an ecosystem, the peaceful crowd of techno, the interest of tourists in a fashionable capital, the "naked city" that doesn't sleep, the incipient desire to turn cool into a lifestyle).
Like Larry Clark, Leandro is involved in that community and his camera often shifts its lens to him (is exposed) in the hands of someone who has already been portrayed before. The texture of his photos in Hotel Roma (2017) say so much about these last years that it is not clear if he has dedicated himself to portraying or inventing the imaginaries that make up contemporary Cuba. They are images as rotund as they are beautiful of a contagiously hedonistic, wild, authentic world. He has been as lucky as the Korda who photographed the "epic" bearded commanders, but his subjects are those of Constantino Arias who portrayed the atmosphere of the Hotel Nacional, or those of Sabá Cabrera and Orlando Jiménez Leal in PM . If the series Tratando de vivir con swing (2006-2008)  is the ultimate refuge of an underground and anachronistic minority, Hotel Roma is the almost perfect union between the counterculture and the establishment.
I continue to inquire, I want to know more about the people who appear in these photos.
Dianela, a girl born during the nineties who (besides being an English teacher at a pedagogical university) dedicates almost every night to the bar in Rome. His almost childish mystery is a graceful contrast to his dry, distant face, as someone who tenderly appears to be difficult. He used to go from party to party, he likes tattoos, Superga's, electronic music and seasonal clothes. In Rome he was able to channel his energy, his hobby had become a job. The images in this work present a generic trait: the deep hedonism of the photos is the reverse of people who devote a lot of time to their work.
On the other hand, Felix, a gay boy from Las Tunas rented in Old Havana, always wears second-hand clothes and is practically the masculine image of the place: athletic, somewhat feminine and with dark skin, he wears afro hair and an incipient beard that already begins to deserve some cuts. In a light interview, I hear him say that his favourite tone of clothing is undoubtedly the denim, which he is fascinated by Lana del Rey and which his own style defines as "round". In addition to speaking to me more than once about freedom; his last sentence does not surprise me: "I am going to be tendency". It's no different from the old fans of the mythical Studio 54: "If I could, I'd arrive in Rome on a horse every night".
Felix's desire to "be trend" is supported by a profile of Instagram (@romahabana), which functions as one of the platforms of the Hotel Roma series. Among photographers there is a certain feeling of anxiety at the saturation of images in social networks, the fear that all these snapshots we share all the time end up devaluing photography. But the important thing is not the mass media, but the passion for how it feels to be the person behind the camera, what kind of situations it generates, how much danger there is in declaring oneself as someone who looks all the time (even what is not due), or in generating circumstances that only exist for and by photography. The more mobile phones there are, the more essential good photographers are.
However," writes Susan Sontag, "the reality of a camera must always hide more than it shows". Richard, the assistant with a perennial smile, does not repeat himself in photos and at night for pleasure. As a classic of Havana since the time when homosexuals were called "connoisseurs," he does not hesitate to tell me the following story: "Back then, in the late 1990s, clandestine transformist party houses were common. I myself had a name called El Talismán, but the most sounded was El Periquitón".
The Periquiton was right next to the 51st Avenue military school, the ITM . It was a fairly large courtyard with a mango bush in the center, surrounded by a dance floor and its respective bleachers, in the background it was limited by a cochiquera. I remember very well your last night. At that time, our referents were Pedro Almodóvar and Reinaldo Arenas, I was very impressed to see there the first, Arenas, unfortunately, had already died. But in addition to Almodóvar there were also Bibí Andersen or Bibi Fernández and Jean Paul Gaultier. The fact is that at the height of the night arrives the police and was on stage Lola Montes, a transformer who now lives in Spain, everyone was surprised by Emigration and the Special Police Brigade. With that impression some fled through the pigsty.
They put an RDA typewriter in the middle of the dance floor, with the machine they were interrogating everybody, the owner was confiscated, and we were taken to Marianao police station, from where we left at three o'clock in the afternoon of the following day, with a fine and a warning. After that the Periquiton didn't work anymore. It was the best gay nightclub Cuba had.
Rome was also an incredible place, albeit without censorship, thanks to the modernity of the 21st century. These young people are fortunate not to have lived the "Capri collection".
But it can't be categorized as an underground bar or gay at all. Behind the bar seems to reproduce the Homeric myth of the fatal sirens. It's better not to stop and listen to his flashy songs. Eli, the pretty young squeezed tattoo girl who prefers to work for Rome, where she earns less money than in her previous job (also in a bar); Claudia, the androgynous redhead who studied Art History; Amarilis, the smiling brunette who hides a family mother's life behind her beauty. Every night they serve drinks for artists, writers, intellectuals, businessmen, state and private millionaires, local and international celebrities, ordinary people and tourists. Hotel Roma knows how to transvestite its actors in a kind of promiscuity as sexual as political, where each one consumes what he lacks. The conservative surrounds himself with liberals, the millionaire of poverty, the tourist tastes the local flavor and the communist experiences dissent.
Few people are not willing to undress or kiss each other, the "poli-love" is a popular idea among his co-religionists. The Hotel Challenge... adopts two seemingly totally incompatible ways. One is the revolt against rigid revolutionary moral sensibility. The other revolt is directed against the world of failure.
According to Juan Villoro, Warhol paraphrased the concept of failure as follows: "Kitty's parties used to be the best in New York, full of Hollywood stars, and now only her friends go. If in And there what time is it? (2015-2016) Leandro pursues by diverse international scenarios the exodus of the Cubans, in Hotel Roma he concentrates in a single point of Havana to show us the world. As in the sixties, but in the opposite direction, Cuba is receiving an army of all sorts of curious people.
The public will be able to see a celebration of the "nothing glamorous" that consumes the West (Karl Lagerfeld: "What I like most of all is the image of Che with a guano hat", Mick Jagger: "I haven't had time to plan a return to the scene, because I haven't left it", Vin Diesel: "This is the sunniest country I've ever seen"), although instead of hiding the Cuban reality, Leandro Feal's photograph, in any case, presupposes it".
During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Alfredo Jaar dedicated himself to documenting much of the event (Real Pictures). The images were collected in black archive boxes converted into a minimalist sculpture. Some of the labels on these boxes were inscribed: "There are so many corpses in the photograph that it is impossible to count them". Absence is the resource to talk about the weariness of a photographic tradition of crimes and death.
For Susang Sontag: "A photograph that brings news of an area of misery cannot make a dent in public opinion unless there is an appropriate context of disposition and attitude". The glass effect of Leandro's photos is one of the most self-referential facts regarding Cuban political language in recent years. Only this showcase, this box to look at the world looks more like Vogue than the unpopular Technical Youth.
Who has seen Havana as a city with three identities, American, Soviet and post-communist? Who has stripped nostalgia of any connotation of the past? Who has questioned the most boring face of our city? If there is one thing in common that defines the Cuban intellectual tradition, it is an agonizing struggle against the mediocrity of the context. The continuity of a conservative culture and the cosmopolitan logic of the avant-garde. There are at least three indisputable quotes to prove it. Lezama wrote to Rodríguez Feo in 1948: "The situation in the country is a face of Juno. On the one hand, purposes of rectification: on the other, the Cuban style of always, apricot and ramplón". Reinaldo Arenas in 1989 talks about "the flat tradition and the daily rambling that has characterized our island". Leandro Feal does not need to explain it, in contrast presents I do not speak with photographers.
by: Abel Gonzalez Fernandez
1] Read at the third note.
2] The phrase is also the name of a work by Ezequiel Suárez that reproduces the same text on a shirt. This object has already been exhibited along with works by Leandro.
3] La Guarida was a lot in Centro Habana that became one of the most luxurious restaurants in the city as opposed to its visuality of domestic ruin. A few steps from La Guarida, also in Centro Habana, is the home of Gabriel Calaforra. Exdiplomatic, former professor of Asian art, intellectual and cosmopolitan par excellence, Calaforra has opened its house every Monday for the last 20 years for the regulars of tea, conversations, politics, languages or art. One of the most important attractions of the bar Roma is the house of Xiomara. As a neighbor of the place (they share the same floor), this 60-year-old housewife opened the doors of her house daily for the customers of the bar. It functioned as a kind of Very Random Person (VRP), a domestic context that served as an alternative to the bar and dance floor beyond exclusivity.
4] Not by chance Leandro presents two films, one on paper and the other on video, where photos are the main attraction. At the Cinémathèque de Cuba, right next to Yo no hablo con fotógrafos, the avant-garde came through photography in the early 1960s, with the influence of Chris Marker and Agnés Varda (the pioneers of the French nouvelle vague). "The nouvelle vague - comments Néstor Almendros - marked the moment of this change. [...] Working on natural sets was not only for economic reasons (these were low-budget films), but also for aesthetic reasons. [...] It was curious that the bureaucrats wanted to impose on a revolutionary cinema all the common techniques of the old Hollywood photography".
5] Trying to live with swing was Leandro's first series of photographs, documenting the bizarre lifestyle of his artist friends, writers, punks, rare Havana characters who defied the average style of local attitudes. Contrary to the sad and self-destructive effect of Nan Goldin's photos, Leandro's series has a festive energy.
6] The Military Technical Institute (ITM) is one of the university centres of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).