Yusimi Rodriguez, photos: Jose Molina
HAVANA TIMES, May 21 – Last month I had the chance to see the exhibit “What’s Up with You?” consisting of twenty-two color photos of dogs.
Held at the La Rampa Cinema here in Havana, three elements impacted me in this exhibit.
The first was that none of the dogs was a Dalmatian, or a German shepherd, or any of the types that people in this country will pay forty or fifty dollars for (sometimes more). What was sure, no one would have paid ten cents for these dirty, mangy street dogs that looked at us from the pictures with sadness.
The second element that stopped me short in front of each photo was the fact that I could almost hear the animals’ whining. In fact, the power was such that during the ten days that the exhibition lasted, I went to see it four times.
The third quality was that none of the pictures were signed. There was no way of knowing who the person was who had become sensitized to this slice of raw reality in our streets to the point of stopping to photograph it.
“What’s Up with You?” is an exhibit sponsored by the Asociación Protectora de Animales y Plantas (the Animal and Plant Protection Association, or ANIPLANT), a non-governmental organization headed by Nora Garcia Perez.
Thanks to her, I learned that the author of the photos is Jose Rolando Molina, the artistic director of the magazine Revista Mar y Pesca (Sea and Fishing), who is also a painter and photographer. I was told that he didn’t sign these works because he didn’t want to be the focus of the exhibit or try to win any acclaim; instead, he wanted the dogs themselves to be at the center of the exhibition.
How did the idea of photographing street dogs come about?
Jose Molina described to me how in 2007 he saw a neighbor dousing a dog with hot water. It was a thin and mangy little animal that walked through the neighborhood without bothering anybody. To Molina, he found that a criminal act. Several weeks later he saw that the dog had begun to grow its hair back, and that it looked fattened up and healthy. Then Molina understood that the neighbor had in fact been curing the dog and had taken on its care as their own responsibility.
Molina then thought that he too should do something. This would prove problematic since he was asthmatic and allergic to dogs; he couldn’t pick them up or even be around them. However, still concerned with the matter, he spoke with his partner at that time, who was also a photographer. She had felt something similar, so the two decided to begin photographing street dogs to expose that situation to people.
Every day they would find five or six abandoned, dirty dogs, scratching their mange or licking their cuts and scrapes. The pair ended up accumulating more than a thousand pictures. Later they separated but he continued on with the task alone. “I don’t know if she continued taking pictures,” he told me.
What to do with the photos?
The moment arrived for exposing the results of his labor, but he had to find someone who would back the initiative. In his search, someone gave him the telephone number of Nora Garcia, ANIPLANT’s president. She was immediately moved by the shots and the idea of exhibiting. Neither of them wanted to show this work in a gallery, with frames and elegance, but rather in the simplest way possible.
The photos were exhibited for the first time in 2009, along Obispo Street in Old Havana, within the framework of an activity presented by the Museum of Natural Sciences. However, these shots didn’t remain static in one place for people to stand around contemplating them. Instead, they were paraded through the streets by people wearing sandwich posterboards.
This year, they did in fact want to present the exhibit in a closed space to celebrate Dog Day. This day is commemorated in all countries of the world, though on different dates. In Cuba it’s held on April 10 in homage to Jannet Ryder, the founder of “Bando Piedad,” the first animal protection association in Cuba that was truly relevant (though another one existed in the 19th century). Jannet Ryder died on April 10, 1931, and starting in 1945 that day was established in Cuba as el Día del Perro (the Day of the Dog). However, after the 1959 revolution it was discontinued for a number of years.
Jose Molina and Nora Garcia’s intention was to hold the exhibit in the International Press Center in the downtown Vedado district, but this proved impossible. Later they received the kind proposition from Proyecto 23 (a combined effort that includes all of the cinemas located on calle 23) to sponsor the event in La Rampa Cinema.
Moreover, this group proposed to have the kickoff of the exhibit on April 10. The photos remained there for only ten days because of an event of the Cuban Television. Nevertheless, the exhibit will soon travel to a gallery in Cuba’s famous Varadero beach resort area.
More than a month has lapsed since I saw these pictures, but I’ve not been able to stop thinking about them. Therefore I wanted to share them with the readers, though problems with Jose Molina’s computer almost prevented me.
“What’s Up with You?” Is that a question for those dirty and hungry animals, or for us – those who don’t do anything, who don’t seek solutions, who don’t take action in the face of this suffering? A phrase from Gandhi says that the measure a society is found in the way it treats its dogs. Let’s hope ours improves.
Click on the tumbnails below to view all the photos in this gallery