During the sixth edition of the 2022 FOTOFOCUS BIENNIAL: World Record—the most expansive of its kind in the Americas—the Annex Gallery in Cincinnati unveiled "Cuba Real," a solo exhibition by the esteemed Cuban photographer and documentarian Raúl Cañibano. This Biennial venerates lens-based art and photography, convening artists, curators, and educators from across the globe. The past iteration showcased significant artist commissions and an extensive range of exhibitions, events, and novel projects, all orbiting the theme of World Record. This motif contemplated the vast photographic archive of life on Earth, humanity's imprint on the natural world, and the pivotal choices we currently grapple with as a global community.
As eloquently articulated by the indelible artist, promoter, and art critic Aldo Menéndez, Raúl Cañibano's oeuvre endeavors to discern in subjects that which bestows upon them a distinct essence than what they intrinsically convey—a symbolic gesture permitting him to subordinate the entire composition to this subversive act, akin to an unsaid trope. Consequently, one might regard his work as an artistic tributary of anthropology. His photographs predominantly spotlight children and the elderly, beings in phases of growth and decline. His lens also captures the spirit of marginalized minorities, historically and contemporarily present within his milieu.
Another of his recurring motifs is the city, primarily Havana, as well as the rural regions of his childhood. He's drawn to the interplay between architecture, captured in its rampant decay, and its inhabitants. He orchestrates a dialogue between them, unforeseen and utterly unpredictable: images seized in the half-light, in a palpable tension.
Thus, Cañibano traverses the city in pursuit of that magical moment that often goes unnoticed by the general populace. His trained eye is adept at anticipating what Carpentier termed as 'certain possible, recurring American synchronicities'. One might argue that within the realm of possibility, they verge on the impossible. He is a master of the 'intersection', of the crossing of paths, of the serendipitous convergence of metaphors. The inhabitants of the Caribbean, broadly speaking, exhibit a gesturality and theatricality that is almost exaggerated, manifesting in gestures of profound aesthetic beauty. When such expressions—seldom diluted in intimate settings—converse with one another, fleeting and magical scenes emerge. Artists like Cañibano, blessed with a remarkable vision, are able to capture and contribute these moments to the cultural tapestry of the contemporary era.
His most striking pieces arise at intersections where life's rituals cross, where accidents of geography or architecture conjure imaginary spectacles. Many of his photographs provide a lingering testament to the leisure of their subjects, to their rest or meditation, predominantly in his rural series, where he evokes the ambiance of his childhood. In the city, these same scenes radiate a palpable tension, a life beleaguered by an unintended stillness. Scholars have observed in his poetics 'a revealing counterpoint between the urban and rural, both aesthetically and sociologically. He broadens the spectrum of documentary imagery by capturing the infinite expressions of individual relationships with others, blurring the boundaries between public and private spaces.'
La primera vez que vi cuatro o cinco piezas fotográficas de Raúl Cañibano me acordé de Lino Novás Calvo, un escritor cubano nacido en Galicia que fue cortador de caña y taxista, entre otros oficios. Debió haber sido en las redes sociales, que nada tienen que ver con los pescadores de cayo El Calvario, al sur de la Ciénaga de Zapata, ni con los que bojean alrededor de Wisteria Island, a justo 650 yardas de Cayo Hueso, e intentan dilucidar el misterio de su soledad, de su propensión a lo prohibido y de sus pinos australianos.