Candela! (Fire!). This is an expression that in Cuba has many meanings. In the vernacular tradition, “Candela” may be used to refer to a fire, an extraordinary event, a warning or an aesthetic judgment.
Similarly, a situation may be thought of as being “En Candela” as well as a work of Art can also be considered “Candela.” A person can be thought of as, or a child can be “La Candela” as a synonym for restlessness. Few words have so many meanings for us like this one.
In the case of the “Candela” exhibition by British artist Justine Foord, the expression refers to the burning of cane fields.
Foord is the first British female artist who shows works at Fototeca in modern times. She has photographed these stunning fires of sugar canes and with her work has created expressive images of saturated color that not only seem to conduct the high temperatures of these fires, but also present in the viewer the doubt between apocalypse or rebirth. Because to “Set Candela” to anything invokes a metaphor of the imminent necessity to conclude or define a certain situation.
Let’s review a little history to understand the complexity of this statement:
Cuba was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, but it was not until 1778, a few years after the taking of Havana by the English, that King Carlos III decided to take a series of measures that favored sea trade and thereby the slave trade on the island. From that moment Cuba defined itself as a producer of sugar cane, a fact that would radically change it.
The cultivation of sugar cane transformed ethnic composition of the island, and thus the relationship between whites and blacks. The Blacks who lived in Cuba up until that time, were mostly free men from southern Spain who had come to the island mainly as workers skilled in boat construction.
When Cuba defined itself as a country that produced sugar, the island became a slave country with a huge population of African slaves who significantly changed the idiosyncrasies and traditions of the Cuban culture.
As in any country with such a system anchored in the production of sugar, life was for centuries subject to the cultivation cycles of sugar cane. Basically divided into “Tiempo Muerto “and” Zafra.” This cyclical opposition extended throughout time, resulting in Cuba becoming a country of extremes. Black and white, All or Nothing, have for years been facets of the Ying and Yang that have shaped the identity of our island.
Within this trend to extremes, “Dar Candela” to something would also be a symbolic trigger of a new beginning.
The actual cutting by fire of cane known in Cuba as “The Australian System,” is not a common practice, usually only used for “stunted reed.” Those cane fields that are not harvested in the required term, remain through the next harvest, and they become very difficult to harvest unless they are burned down first.
When the cane fields are not harvested in the amount of time they depend upon to gain the next harvest, they become very difficult to harvest if they are not burned first. But the burnt cane implies a processing rate much more hectic than the usual harvest. It must be sent urgently to the Central for processing, at the risk of losing it’s valuable cane juice.
To first understand all these historical and technical details of the crop cane in Cuba, help us put Foord’s work in context, and thus appreciate not only the formal beauty of her work, but the conceptual connotations thereof.
In a time when Cuba and The USA have announced the process of normalization (perhaps reconciliation) of their diplomatic relations, Foord’s work appears tinted with a metaphor of revival and nostalgia.
The burnt fields appear as a hopeful image of rebirth, much like that of a phoenix from the ashes,
And, also as a menacing apocalyptic vision.
The flames that expand by control or uncontrolled, the smoke blackened skies as visions of an uncertain and a better future.
Although it is not clear, the optimistic nature of the Cuban gives more weight to the possibility that everything goes well, and we chose above all, the idea of rebirth with a positive end and we look with hope toward the extending flames.
Written by Nelson Ramirez de Arellano Conde, Director Fototeca.