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Ukrainian Photographer Ilya Genin Offers a Provocative Take on Modern Day Cuba in Exhibit at Rutgers Art Library

February 22, 2016
Genin artwork

Ilya Genin illuminates modern day Cuba with photography and collage. This illustration is used courtesy of the author. Copyright Ilya Genin.

The Rutgers University Art Library will display work by New Jersey artist, Ilya Genin from Monday, February 22nd through Thursday March 31st. The exhibit will kick off with a public celebration on Thursday, March 3rd, from 4:30-5:30 in the Art Library (Voorhees Hall, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1248).

Ilya Genin is an artist renowned for beautiful and provocative artistic representations of present day Cuba. Working in photography and digital collage form, Genin’s art probes essential questions about collisions between African and Spanish cultures, capitalism and communism, religion and sexual independence, and necessity and principle.

“Genin uses digital collages to express that Cuba has been the subject of extraordinary mash-ups,” explains Princeton-based photographer Ricardo Barros. “Cubans have harnessed diverse, sometimes conflicting forces to forge an imperfect union. Like Cuba itself, Ilya Genin’s vision is complex. It is tinged with darkness, as well as with hope.”

Born and raised in Ukraine, Genin first learned of Cuba through Soviet messaging, sparking a life-long interest. Now an American citizen and a cardiologist with a busy New Jersey practice, Genin has traveled to Cuba many times, camera in hand to capture the people, places, and activities of the island. Thanks to recent political changes, Cuba is once again at the fore of American cultural imagination, imbuing Genin’s work with greater significance.

Genin’s exhibition at the Art Library is presented as part of the ‘Latino Americans: 500 Years of History’ grant project funded by the American Library Association and the National Endowment for the Humanities, in conjunction with the PBS Series. Project director Nancy C. Kranich hopes Genin’s work will generate greater interest and understanding in Cuba’s history and modern-day diplomatic relations with the United States.

“I’m thrilled that this NEH/ALA grant: Latino Americans: 500 Years of History, provides Rutgers and other New Jersey community members an opportunity to see such a moving, up-close, illustrative picture of life in contemporary Cuban society,” says Kranich. “Viewers will come away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Cuban, Latino, and human experience shaped by historic circumstances that have contributed to day-to-day life in a place that is foreign to many Americans, but will soon become more familiar as we forge closer ties to our nearby neighbor.”

Previously, Genin’s work has been exhibited to fellow photographers and to Cuban audiences in Havana, so this exhibit is an opportunity to reach new audiences, according to the photographer.

“I jumped at the opportunity to show my work to an entirely different audience—young men and women on their way to become full-fledged members of the intellectual elite who will bear the burden of making far-reaching decisions in our complicated world,” Genin explains. “I could not think of a better audience to ponder questions about the changes in Cuban society in the coming months and years than up and coming thinkers, shakers, and movers who are present in this preeminent higher ed institution of a state which is home to so many Cubans who could not bear to live under the Castro regime.”

Dan Figueredo, a librarian and author of children’s books and chronicler of the Latino experience in the United States, played a key role in bringing Genin’s work to Rutgers University.  “As a graduate of the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, editor of the Encyclopedia of Cuba, and author of A Brief History of the Caribbean, I’m proud of the contribution Rutgers University is making to a broader understanding of Cuba’s history and the courage of the Cuban people,” says Figueredo. “Ilya’s artistic sensibility allows him to focus on the nuances of the daily survival of the Cuban people celebrating with them the humanity they bring forth regardless of doctrine and political agendas.”

And, according to Barros, it is this emphasis on the humanity of the people of Cuba that makes the exhibit a not-to-be-missed event: “Genin affirms that Cubans have nothing to apologize for, but his photographs also show us much more. We see that Cubans are self-aware, scarred, secure, passionate, practical, involved, engaged, acquiescent, loving, and, most of all, human.”

To learn more about the Latino Americans 500 years of history initiatives on the Rutgers campuses please visit: http://libguides.rutgers.edu/latinoamericans500