By Graham Douglas in Britain:
Monday, February 5, 2018
Interview: Rastaman with a mission
Cuban artist LESTER McCOLLIN SPRINGER talks to Graham Douglas about what drives him on
LESTER McCOLLIN SPRINGER is a Rasta artist from Las Tunas in the east of Cuba, whose vibrant images combine expressiveness with abstraction.
Many of them feature women, not as sweet playthings but as powerful bearers of their African roots and colonial history in the Caribbean.
Aged 40, he’s a serious artist, not conforming to the laid-back, ganja-smoking image of Rastafarians.
His work is known and respected in Cuba, yet, in Britain where he’s currently based, his talent has struggled to be recognised. In this interview, he talks about his artistic dedication in the face of opposition and misunderstanding and the importance of Rastafarianism in his life.
When did you start painting?
From age four, I started to draw in books, magazines and exercise books. Anywhere I could find a space to draw, on any blank space, I would leave my mark.
This got me in trouble with my mother and the teachers. The pressure for me to give up art started from an early age. I suffered the refusal and disrespect of my father, the only great detractor that I have known until today since he, like many at that time, considered the arts as a weakness in all its aspects and as a non-respectable profession.
I owe my further development and maturity to my mother, to Raul Alvarino who became my teacher when I was seven and to a cousin [who was an] artist, Jorge Eversley.
No-one has inspired in me more respect than the teachers in Las Tunas, where I studied art until the age of 21, when I graduated as a professional artist. Their aesthetics differ from mine, but the consistency and discipline in their work are elements that I appreciate.
How do you choose your subjects?
Most of my themes are socially related, while some are from a more intimate perspective. In 1998, I chose to give a black aesthetic to my work because I understood that what I best knew was myself as a black person, my family and the people closest to me, not all of whom were black.
I decided to pay homage to my ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa. What makes my art distinctive is images of Rastafarian men and women.
My beginnings as a professional were influenced by the naive current. Then, with experimentation, I became more expressionist in terms of form and colour. I created a symbology which, after almost 20 years of hard work, has made my art unique.
Collections like So Much Things to Say, Jardin de los Mil Suspiros (Garden of a Thousand Sighs), Trapped Voices and Ashe are a demonstration of this. I paint houses inside bodies as symbols of our diversity as Caribbean people and as human beings, keys symbolise the challenges that we face in passing through life, female bodies and Rastamen are core elements in my work and reflect mother nature, the Antilles, our ancestors.
They are my extension, my vision in each moment of my life. They motivate me to communicate with the world around me.
What does Rastafarian culture mean for you?
Rastafarian culture is the basis on which I build my life. I keep learning about it, it is a process of evolution, where respect for African roots prevails, respect for life in general, the relationship between human beings and nature.
I use only Rastafarian aesthetics, symbology, colours and figures to convey a message of rebellion, of acceptance of my roots. Rasta philosophy belongs to human beings in any part of the world. In my artwork, love, loss of love, history are very specific to my Caribbean heritage.
What do you think about the misogynistic attitudes common among many Rasta men?
I understand that there are some misogynist attitudes within it, but from what I have experienced I do not believe that it is what characterises the movement.
We Rastamen have a solid, important, necessary and eternal bond with women. We are grateful to life for them. Women are not simply our other half. We and they are as one. There are no differences from a human point of view.
Being misogynist would be completely illogical. It would go against our philosophy, concepts, ways of living and I dare say the origins of humankind. If you know my work, you would see that being misogynist has no place. By representing the female figure in many contexts, forms and interpretations I reinforce my position as a Rastaman and a human being who rejects all forms of discrimination.
I show my respect to our companeras as an artist and a Rastaman. Regardless of the many different opinions, experiences, social status and whatever defines gender differences, I intend to express my tribute to women.
Rastamen respect their female energy because it is important to recognise they are part of us as we are part of them, we are joined in pure harmony with the universe. Women are half of humanity and are respected by Rastafarianism in contrast to the image created by some rap lyrics. My way of seeing and identifying with the world is rooted in that culture.
Did you work as an artist in Cuba before you left?
I worked as a teacher in art school and in a gallery of small-scale sculptures, the only one of its kind in Cuba. Meanwhile, I kept producing my art pieces, absorbing from the experience and expertise of my colleagues who are excellent professionals.
It proved quite challenging as my strong personality and strict discipline were not always well received. This unfulfilling experience put me off teaching art, although I am grateful for what I learnt.
After approximately 20 years of professional work as an artist, I have shown work in 70 exhibitions, in different countries. In Cuba, despite the challenges, I always had many opportunities to exhibit, including key events like the Festival del Fuego in Santiago de Cuba.
In Jamaica, Poland, England and Belgium I did not know the art scene, so I exhibited in small venues such as cafes, community centres, libraries, theatres and town-hall spaces. More recently, I have worked particularly in Brighton and Hove.
What is it like to be a black non-British artist in Britain?
I have not encountered either support or discrimination for being a black foreign artist in this country.
My art is irreverent. The colours are bold, powerful, pure. In my work, I carry all the warmth and colours of the Caribbean, all the passion of my soul. And, as I am not orthodox or apologetic, I hit against the cultural, social and aesthetic barriers of British culture.
In Cuba, talent is valued greatly. You can be black, white, red or yellow — what counts is talent. As a black artist, I built my name and developed as an artist in Cuba. I am not only black. I endorse universal themes through a black aesthetic and this has been respected.
What future plans do you have?
My most coveted project is Wingless Angel, which is promoting the art of my Cuban colleagues here in Britain through a series of exhibitions. It will generate funds to be reinvested in the project. Some of the proceeds will go towards institutions that work with children with disabilities or terminal illnesses. I value their work immensely.
I need financial help, as I aim to produce maybe over 100 pieces in big formats, paintings, sculptures, prints and to cover the transport of Cuban colleagues’ work, logistics and marketing. I want to promote exhibitions in other countries, especially the EU, to expose our Cuban art to a wide and diverse public, start conversations and exchange ideas.
And I would like artists of other nationalities to join the project, so it can be enriched with cultural and spiritual diversity.
Details of The Wingless Angel project are available at springercuba.co.uk. This interview first appeared in Sounds and Colours, a website and print publication focused on South American music and culture, soundsandcolours.com
This video from the USA says about itself:
15 June 2017
By Peter Lazenby in Britain:
‘Open’ University blacklists Cubans from its courses
Monday 24th July 2017
Institution accused of blocking enrolments to bolster US embargo – in breach of British laws
CUBANS have been banned from enrolling at the Open University (OU) because the institution fears repercussions from the United States, which has been illegally blockading the island for 59 years.
The distance-learning university has been accused of breaching discrimination laws by imposing the ban.
Around 30 Cuban students are already studying at other British universities and the government has pledged to build higher education links with the tiny Caribbean nation.
The OU has claimed that the ban on Cuban students is “in response to international economic sanctions and embargoes” — that is, threats of retaliation from the US.
Britain as a whole does not operate or subscribe to any economic sanctions or embargoes against Cuba.
The Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC) yesterday condemned the ban as “unacceptable” and said the OU was choosing to abide by US rather than British law.
CSC director Rob Miller said: “It is unacceptable on every level for a British university to ban an entire group of students based solely on their nationality and runs counter to anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws.
“It is an affront to all British people to suggest, as the OU does, that they are only complying with US law. Their action and justification for it punishes the people of Cuba, and undermines the sovereignty of British law.
“Cuban students are welcome to study at many other British universities. By introducing this unjust, discriminatory and nasty policy, the OU is making a mockery of its claim to be ‘open to all.’
“We have asked the Open University to end this outrageous ban, and are calling on the British government to make urgent representations to the OU to ensure that they run a fair and non-discriminatory admissions policy, or take action to enforce one if they refuse.”
In March, Foreign and Commonwealth Minister Sir Alan Duncan met Cuban vice-minister for higher education Dr Aurora Fernandez, who was in Britain leading a delegation from the Cuban higher education sector.
He said at the time he was “looking forward to working with them towards UK-Cuba goals on higher education, research, and English language training.”
Westminster policy is one of “strengthening UK-Cuba educational links.”
Last year, a memorandum of understanding was signed to “boost bilateral cooperation in higher education, research and teaching of English.”
CSC has launched a campaign to persuade the OU to lift its ban on Cuban students and is urging supporters to write to their MPs over the matter.
The US economic blockade was imposed by president John F Kennedy in 1962, extending restrictions from 1960, and maintained by every subsequent president.
Relations between Cuba and the US improved under President Obama, though the economic blockade remained largely in place, but President Trump is tightening restrictions against island country of 11 million.
The blockade, which has been declared illegal by the United Nations every year since 1992, has significant and punitive effects on Cuba, including its health and education services.
Drugs and medicines have to be shipped from China and other countries, despite being available just 90 miles away in the US.
Cuba: No evidence of ‘sonic attacks’ on diplomats, says US Republican Senator: here.
An “unjust” economic blockade of Cuba by US imperialism has cost the country’s economy an estimated $130 billion in six decades, according to the United Nations: here.
This video says about itself:
Wild Cuba [Nature Documentary] HD
12 July 2015
Cuba’s political and economic isolation has provided the outside world little opportunity to see its wildlife … until now. It may be renowned for its politics and its cigars, but Cuba is home to some of the most unusual creatures on earth, including the feisty Cuban crocodile, the world’s smallest bird and frog, and migrating land crabs.
Cuba’s diverse wildlife stems from its unique natural history. Cuba was not originally in the Caribbean Sea but in the Pacific Ocean, where the island was situated 100 million years ago, before the forces of continental drift slowly brought it into the Caribbean. As the island migrated over the ages, an astonishing variety of life arrived by air, sea, and possibly by land bridges that may have once existed. Over time, these animals adapted to their new environment. Today, more than half of Cuba’s plants and animals, including more than 80 percent of its reptiles and amphibians, are found nowhere else on the planet.
From the Wildlife Conservation Society:
Endangered Cuban crocodiles come home
July 13, 2017
Experts from WCS’s Global Conservation Programs and WCS’s Bronx Zoo assisted Cuban conservationists in the recent release of 10 Cuban crocodiles (Crocodylus rhombifer) into Cuba’s Zapata Swamp as part of an ongoing recovery strategy for this Critically Endangered species.
These genetically pure crocodiles came from a breeding facility near the Zapata swamp. Hybridization with American crocodiles, which occur in the Southwestern tip of the Zapata Peninsula, is an ongoing issue and has contributed to the Cuban crocodile’s continuing decline. Cuban crocodiles face other threats, such as an increase in illegal hunting in recent years, so the release of captive bred Cuban crocodiles and the protection of these reptiles from poaching and hybridization is critical to the survival of the species in the wild.
The crocodiles were released in the Wildlife Refuge Channels of Hanabana (Refugio de Fauna Canales de Hanábana) — a 570 hectare (1,400 acre) mosaic of water channels, lagoons, marsh grasslands, and swamp forests in the easternmost Zapata Peninsula where Cuban crocodiles historically occurred. Marsh grasslands in this refuge provide crucial habitat for not only Cuban crocodiles, but prey including bird, fish and mammal species. No American crocodiles or hybrids are found in this Wildlife Refuge.
The recent release, which took place on June 8th, is the second reintroduction since Cuba started to release Cuban crocodiles in 2016. The decision to release the crocodiles followed a workshop of crocodile experts organized by WCS and Cuban institutions, including the Fundación Antonio Nuñez Jiménez, CITMA Ciénaga de Zapata, and Empresa Nacional para la Protección de la Flora y la Fauna. The workshop brought together 40 Cuban nationals working for the conservation of crocodiles in Cuba, and 30 international experts.
The workshop resulted in a series of agreed priorities for improving the conservation of crocodiles, including: strengthening the research and monitoring of Cuban crocodiles in the wild; increasing efforts to reintroduce and monitor reintroduced animals in Channels of Hanabana; working with local communities to reduce poaching through alternative livelihoods and environmental education; and working with local authorities to strengthen compliance to reduce illegal selling of crocodile meat.
Said Natalia Rossi, WCS Cuba Program Manager: “This workshop was important because it enabled the second release of Cuban crocodiles into the wild and motivated all participants to do even more to save this critically endangered species. Our workshop was fundamental to bring everyone together to share the work being done to save the Cuban crocodile.”
The critically endangered Cuban crocodile has the smallest, most restricted geographic distribution among all living crocodilian species, being only found in parts of the Zapata and Lanier swamps. Historically it was found throughout the Zapata Peninsula, but indiscriminate hunting for skins beginning in the second half of the 19th century and lasting until the early 1960s decimated most populations. Today, Cuban crocodiles inhabit a territory of about 77,600 hectares (191,700 acres), sharing habitat with the American crocodile and the hybrids of both species.
WCS’s John Thorbjarnarson began working on Cuban crocodiles in the 1990s, and WCS’s Bronx Zoo was the first U.S. zoo to successfully breed Cuban crocodiles. The first one hatched in 1983; six more hatched in 1984, and 21 in 1985. There has been no reproduction since then, but the zoo has a new young pair of crocodiles that will be introduced to each other late this year.
Kevin Torregrosa, Herpetology Collections Manager for WCS’s Bronx Zoo, attended the workshop to establish collaboration opportunities with individuals working with crocodiles in the breeding centers as well as with wild populations.
Said Torregrosa: “Cuba is a fairly isolated island and getting the chance to see the conservation effort in practice was very enlightening. I believe the Cubans were very happy to have the opportunity to show the international community the work that they have been doing.”
This video says about itself:
17 June 2017
On June 16, President Donald Trump gave a speech in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood outlining his planned rollback of the loosening of travel and trade restrictions initiated under the Obama administration. Repeating his absurd claim that the deal to reopen diplomatic relations and allow US companies to operate on the island was “one-sided” and “terrible and misguided,” the Trump administration is speaking not only for wealthy, right-wing Cuban exiles who were part of his base. American imperialism’s most rapacious layers see a Cuban economic collapse on the horizon and an opportunity to take back their old property without having to give a cut to the Cuban leadership and their associates: here.
The official June 16 statement was barely uttered when the majority nationwide opposition to the Trump Cuba policy was once again reignited. Indeed, it was already extremely active and vocal before the Little Havana, Miami venue and date were announced on June 9. By stage-managing the event in Little Havana, Trump was preaching to the choir, one that does not even include the rest of Florida, where the majority of Cuban-Americans oppose the blockade, or at least support the Obama policy of making the blockade somewhat more flexible. Trump’s trademark manner of hand-picking events to spread the word across the country will not work. His Cold War rhetoric will not detract the forces that want to increase trade and travel to Cuba: here.
This video from the USA says about itself:
15 June 2017
On Friday, President Trump is expected to announce plans to roll back some of the United States’ new diplomatic and commercial relations with Cuba, which were brokered under the Obama administration. Bloomberg News reports the changes may include curbing travel between the U.S. and Cuba. Other changes may include reinstating restrictions on Americans visiting Cuba and bringing back famous Cuban goods, like cigars and rum. Officials also say Trump might demand the extradition of people who have received political asylum in Cuba, like Assata Shakur. For more, we speak with Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California.
By James Tweedie in Britain:
Trump set to clamp down on Cuba
Saturday 17th June 2017
Activists condemn renewed restrictions as a ‘major setback’
CUBA solidarity campaigners warned of “a major setback” yesterday after revelations that US President Donald Trump is planning to clamp down on travel and commercial ties with the island.
Anonymous White House officials leaked details of policy changes to the media ahead of Mr Trump’s official announcement in Miami’s Little Havana district.
The president is expected to announce plans which will reinstate restrictions lifted by his predecessor Barack Obama in December 2014.
These include tightening the rules for US citizens travelling to Cuba and banning US business dealings with the Enterprise Administration Group SA (Gaesa) — run by the Cuban armed forces — which operates dozens of hotels, tour buses, restaurants and other facilities.
But critics said it would cripple Cuba’s booming small business sector.
Cuba Solidarity Campaign director Rob Miller said the measures “will be a major setback for US-Cuba relations and will condemn the Cuban people to continue suffering the consequences of the blockade” — which has not yet been formally lifted.
He said Mr Trump had “succumbed to pressure from hardline pro-blockade politicians” in the important electoral swing state.
Mr Miller pointed out that the announcement “flies in the face of US public opinion” — with 65 per cent of respondents to a recent poll backing improved relations.
“This will be a huge disappointment to the people of Cuba who saw a glimmer of hope that the blockade may end,” he added.
Mr Trump’s plans will not completely reverse the detente begun under Mr Obama — as he had promised Florida’s Cuban emigre community during last year’s election.
The “wet foot-dry foot” asylum policy that led thousands to risk their lives on people-trafficking boats will not be reinstated.
Again, a blog post about Cuba. This time not about the birds I saw in Cuba (more blogs posts about that will come later). But about some twenty historical wrecked ships in Cuban waters; including some of Dutch buccaneer admiral Cornelis Corneliszoon Jol (1597–1641).
Cornelis Jol was nicknamed in Dutch Houtebeen=in English pegleg=in Spanish Pie de Palo, because he had one wooden leg. So, there is not just the fictional pirate Captain Hook, but also the real Jol.
Jol was an admiral of the Dutch West India Company. As such, he played an important role in making the Dutch important players in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery, which they had not been before. Jol conquered the Portuguese slave export port Luanda in Angola. He also played a role in the conquest of north-east Brazil with its slave plantations.
In 1640, a storm sank some of Jol’s ships off Cuba. Today, Dutch NOS TV reports that there will be joint Cuban-Dutch archaeological research into these shipwrecks.
There are also later Dutch shipwrecks near Cuba: like the cargo ship SS Medea, sunk in 1942 by a German submarine.
The research will start in 2018.