American Museum of Natural History Explores Cuba in Latest Exhibit
Recently, the American Museum of Natural History debuted their newest exhibition ¡Cuba!, which will run through August, 2017. The bilingual exhibit is the first of its kind to debut in any American museum in regards to its size and depth. “American Museum of Natural History scientists have worked in collaboration with colleagues in Cuba for many decades, studying the extraordinary biological diversity and endemism of this island nation,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History in the official press release. “We are delighted now to work in collaboration with the National Natural History Museum in Havana in a groundbreaking partnership to present this major exhibition exploring Cuba’s amazing and unique nature and culture, especially at a time when cultural understanding and education are critically important.” The extraordinary exhibit showcases not just the unique history, traditions and culture of the island but also looks closely at its diverse ecosystems, unique native species.
Upon visiting the exhibit, visitors are first met with life-size portraits of modern day Cubans that offer what the AMNH calls “a chorus of voices”. One of those is the life-size image of tattoo artist Jose Francisco Casanova Perez from Sancti Spiritus, Cuba. “I would define the Cuban as a brave person who has learned to live with many problems, who laughs at all those problems, who lives each day in order to try to live the next,” it read besides his photograph. Following these portraits, visitors are treated to some geographic information about the island in the form of an easy to read map. This map outlines the largest cities, national parks and the marine reserve. Many of Cuba’s natural wonders, such as its unique caves that are millions of years in the making, are explained for visitors. Of note in this section is the immersive walk-through reconstruction of the Zapata Biosphere Reserve, which in real life covers 1.5 million acres and is home to much of Cuba’s wildlife.
The next part of the exhibit features Cuba’s exquisite biodiversity. Since items could not be shipped directly from Cuba due to restrictions, the museum made a concerted effort to create realistically sized models of crocodiles, a venomous shrew, the world’s smallest hummingbird and a scientifically accurate representation of an extinct 3-foot-tall owl that is unique to Cuba. In addition to the models, there are some live lizards, frogs and snakes to be seen.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing parts of the show is the “stroll through the city”. Made to replicate a Cuban street, each storefront and/or entrance gives way to another part of Cuban culture. Each section is totally immersive. A Cuban cigar shop, a produce stand, and a display of music and dance are all to be viewed and enjoyed. Particularly beautiful is the homage to the orisha religion, also known as Santeria. Made to look like a home prepared for worship, the exhibit boasts two beautiful thrones (altars).
Within the “street” itself, visitors will notice the 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, which speaks to Cuba’s tightly restricted car imports and sales. These regulations have inspired Cubans to keep old cars running, which is demonstrated through the Bel Air. The “street” also includes a “plaza” with tables and seating. On each table is a different facet of Cuban cuisine: a plate of guava con queso, a bowl of ajiaco, and a cup of Cuban coffee are just a few.
The final section showcases Cuba’s rich contribution to film and the arts with a colorful display of posters created within the last decade by Cuban artists. There is also an interactive gallery, which is a room where viewers can select works of art and performances to be projected on the walls.
All in all, ¡Cuba! is an enlightening and informative exhibition that shows Cuba in a way no exhibit has done before. The exhibition will run through August 2017. #