Pedro Pablo Oliva’s El Gran ´Apagón (The Great Blackout) is the Guernica of Cuba. They tried hanging the painting in El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the most-famous museum in the Havana, but it was taken down after one day because of its controversial imagery, which includes an empty Cuban pulpit and a pair of closed-eye Castro brothers.
It’s hard to find a hi-res version of the painting online (this is my best find so far) but I was lucky enough to see El Gran Apagón in person in 2009. The painting currently hangs quietly in Oliva’s hybrid home/studio/cultural center in Pinar Del Río, a province best known for its fertile tobacco fields. Safe to say it was one of the most moving pieces of art I’ve ever seen. It’s big, too, and I remember not being able to fit the whole thing in one camera shot no matter what angle I tried. It’s amazing how such a resolutely perfect piece of political art is just chilling in a rural town in Cuba, but I guess that’s just another paradox of the country to add to the pile.
I remembered the El Gran Apagón today after the news broke of USAid’s plan to create an SMS-based “Cuban Twitter" as a means of political mobilization and dissent. Today, it seems the Great Cuban Blackout is the country’s extremely limited access to internet. (Only 25% of Cubans have used the internet in the past year, including mobile phone users. And the connection speeds? Shit.) It’s a shame that the USAid dudes got caught, since this will inevitably give the Cuban government reason tighten whatever bandwidth already exists. Soon enough all of the Cuban cell phones and laptops will be stashed away in a room in Pinar Del Rio.