La Habana and the Nomad Within

When I visited Cuba in July 2015, I had prospected that I would bound myself to indulging in the resort scene and, to sun bathing. Notwithstanding, I ended up creating a few art pieces each of which, objectively speaking, demonstrate a new progression pattern. The difference with my previous work can be related to the time of the creation, specific to the space these pieces showcase or, the fact that I had picked up a different paper material for sketching. I would suspect however, it is a complex form of variables in absorbing realities.

This was the first time I was residing [temporarily] outside of Iran or Canada. Ironic for someone who might appear relatively mobile; I might have spent a significant amount of time travelling to obtain travel documents (!), or, transiting through states to get to the next destination. However, for practically experiencing any of these spaces, I seem to be very much restricted to the nation states and the ways in which they tend to deal with [im]mobilities.

La Habana - August 2015

The irony becomes even stronger, when I look at a few generations back; my mother’s grandparents were born Bakhtiari (بختیاری), a nomadic pastoralist people, who live and move in southwest of Iran. Their daughter, my grandmother, even though raised in urban areas, retained what appears to me as an inherent nomadism. After the death of her husband (my grandfather) she never set home and orbited among her kids, staying with one after another, while occasionally staying with friends. At this point it seems to me that she had managed her life in a way so she would not be bound to any certain spaces; for whether it would be too painful and abstract to permanently take any space without the presence of the love of her life or, that she preferred to be at the closest possible proximity to the offspring of that love. As much as she was criticized for overtly generously spending her investments on her children and friends, or for not accumulating wealth, it appears to me that my grandmother was in fact a free woman.

In “US and Them” (2013), Bridget Anderson elaborates on how the history has developed a certain portrayal of those who do not belong to a certain community or state. Those are essentially perceived as a threat, mainly for that they “own” their labor. Consequently, restrictions on mobility appear as a set of deliberate regulations for stabilizing labour or, what from a Marxist analysis perspective presents arrangements for controlling one’s means of production.

I am not sure if I will chose my grandmother’s life style when I’m in my 70s. However, I do know that if anything, as a kid I was the one who would insist to my parents, who seemed almost entirely reluctant to travelling, to take us on occasional trips. As an adult I found better reasoning to stay on the move; during my undergrad years, I became a varsity athlete and, while attending national competitions, I got to see many major cities of Iran. Then, when after years of being exposed to English [language] music, I had a hard time not leaping towards the people whose lyricists resonated my dilemmas and dramas, I became an “international students” and flew to Canada1. It was only years later and when I was visiting Cuba, that what seemed to me an emergence of patterns and their juxtaposition with my limit in travelling [on Iranian passport], brought me to a certain conclusion; that in essence it is the “mobility”, or the freedom associated with it, separate from how it corresponds with [my] nationality, that is the front and center of many of my actions.

I was in Cuba to fulfill a desire that had never appeared explicitly in my rhetoric before; conquering, exploring or just knowing as a task. This is nothing close to the luxurious forms of traveling, the urge to take selfies with the world renowned monuments. This is a need from within to touch the other side, breath the foreign air, and find the astonishing similarities that human societies represent. I was in Cuba to take a peak at a revolutionary state that has now become a holiday spot, known to the academic for reproducing the exploitative nature of “all inclusive” services.

And in the end, I was left mesmerized by how much the tropical resort “felt” like the narrow stripe of land located in north of Iran, south to the Caspian see; the “vacation beaches” exploited by proliferation of cottages. The 12 degrees difference in latitude, did not take away how much the streets of Havana “felt” like the market spaces in central Tehran. There, there was the spirit of movement, rusted under the sun, shaking its dusty wings every once in a while; at every song the pigeons sang at noon time.

Visit the completed work here: http://www.golbon.ca/pap/lahabana

And Progression: https://www.behance.net/gallery/33853316/Havana


1 Now I am entirely aware Canada is bilingual French and English. I however, knew only English at the time.