If you ask Dr. Luci Fernandes about Cuba, she can tell you just about anything you’d like to know, having studied the people and the culture of the island-nation for the past 10 years. But as a cultural anthropologist, she’d rather show you some photographs and let you experience it for yourself.
This month, the campus community can do just that as Fernandes is showcasing a collection of her photographs from Cuba at Joyner Library in an exhibit called “Cuba: The Pearl of the Caribbean.”
Fernandes, who teaches in ECU’s department of anthropology, as well as in the Global Understandings and MAIS (Master’s of International Studies) programs, annually returns to Cuba for ongoing research into the daily lives and culture of the Cuban people, a sometimes daunting task in a country as diverse as Cuba.
Above, Dr. Luci Fernandes shares her photographs and speaks of her experiences in Cuba.
“It’s a very difficult place to explain because it’s filled with so many contrasts and contradictions. I always say that the more I learn [about Cuba,] the harder it is to explain. But I think that is the beauty and the mystery of it,” she said.
Mystery is right. Cuba is a mere 90 miles south of the United States. But despite the countries’ proximity to one another, a vast political and economic barrier has prevented the past three generations of Americans from knowing much about their next-door neighbor, something Fernandes hopes she can change with her photographs.
“I try to tell a story of a people that we are not used to seeing and a culture that we aren’t familiar with. We think of Cuba and this restrictive government, of limiting people’s ideas and beliefs, but some things are very persistent in the Cuban hearts and minds and culture, and people have gone out of their way to preserve such things,” she said.
Fernandes is a proponent of visual anthropology, a technique that uses photography, video, and audio recording to provide context to cultural analysis. She uses the technique extensively when in Cuba, especially when researching music, dance, and religious practices like Santeria.
“Part of our methodology is participatory observation; it’s what anthropologists pride themselves on. It’s what sets us apart from other social sciences, that we go into the field, that we participate in rituals and activities so we have a better understanding of what it is like to be a part of that society. And I don’t think there is a better way to capture that than by using film and photography,” she said.
The Seeds of Change exhibit occupies the library's largest gallery space and features digital reproductions of photographs from the Daily Reflector.
For the next month, Fernandes’s photos will be on display in Joyner Library along the main corridor leading to the computer lab and reference services. The space is one of three the library has designated as gallery space for faculty and students to showcase their art.
“Libraries are not just about books anymore,” said dean of Academic Library and Learning Resources Larry Bower. “Joyner Library strives to provide a student centered space for study, collaboration, creation, and social interaction. As part of that experience, the Library features art, exhibits, and displays that teach, inform and entertain.”
The library’s main gallery space comprises nearly 2,500 square feet on the second floor near the administrative suites, and is currently home to the "Seeds of Change” exhibit. The exhibit features large digital reproductions of archival photographs from the Daily Reflector, Greenville’s daily newspaper, and offers a rare glimpse into the history of Pitt County.
A third space is on the first floor hallway between the library’s classrooms. It currently features the work of Dr. Borim Song, a professor in the School of Art and Design. In a collection of photographs, she chronicles her migration from Korea, to New York city, and finally to Greenville.
“We do this kind of thing in the library because we really want to make the library an exciting place for people to study,” said Robert James, assistant director for user services at Joyner Library. “It might get a little boring sometimes studying in an environment that has blank walls all the time.”
Along with faculty exhibits, the library also showcases award-winning pieces from graduate students in the School of Art and Design, which are displayed in the main hallway on the second floor. Although to date, no students outside of the art department has had work exhibited, according to James the library is open to all students and faculty who might wish to share their art.
“The art exhibits we have through students do go through a jury process. They are selected by an exhibit committee. But we would be very open to other students who would like to display their art,” he said.
Those interested in art exhibition opportunities at Joyner Library are welcome to contact Cynthia Jones.