A Tale of Two Cities:
Representations of Havana, Cuba

There exists in the minds of many Americans a crumbling city full of delightful patina and meticulously restored Chevrolets and Cadillacs, where the glamour of the Kennedys and the macabre fascination with the cold war and nuclear fallout build in imaginations a world of exoticism and intrigue.  

This is City #1.


There exists 90 miles south of Key West, Florida a place two million people call home, a place where life continues as it always has. It is a city struggling to make do under economic and political pressures, where hope and tenacity prevail.  A city on the brink of profound change.

This is City #2.


I am proposing to research the various representations of Havana, Cuba and the role aesthetics plays within them.   To begin, I will analyze how these representations are constructed, whether through techniques of photography, collage, film, or drawing.  I will then look at how the constructed images are disseminated (perhaps as advertisements, travel blogs, or exhibitions) to ultimately unravel how the uses of representation and image are instrumentalized for patriotism, propaganda, self-expression, or cultural identity.


What facilitates the phenomenon of one Havana with two distinct identities is the difference between the external gaze and the internal gaze of the city.  The external gaze embodies aesthetics with distance and this is what leads to representations laden with misplaced nostalgia, the romanticization of decay and poverty, and the overall objectification of the city and of the country.  The internal gaze embodies aesthetics with an agenda as questions of Cuban modernity,  politics, authenticity, and identity all begin to arise.  Before traveling to Cuba I will study representations with an external gaze and while in Havana I will seek out and analyze those created from an internal gaze.


What do I mean, “aesthetics”?

The distinction between the two uses of aesthetics in this research is important to understand.  The first uses the philosophical study of art where the aesthetic experience demands distance, sometimes sacrificing ethics in order to achieve this distance.  When people say, “Go to Cuba before it’s ruined!” they are embodying an objective, external, aesthetic view that entirely ignores the humanitarian consequences of keeping Cuba “ruined”. This is City #1.  The second definition of aesthetics is based on the assertion that aesthetics carry messages and meanings through appearances, which can then be interpreted by the individual or society.  When Cuban architect Orlando Inclán says, “The biennial gives the image of the city that we want to have.” he is referring to the perceptions one makes when associating a city with a culturally significant event such as a art biennial.  This is City #2.

Why is this research relevant? 

Architecture and our understanding of it are deeply rooted in the visual and the information we attain from the aesthetic experience. Using the eye of an architect, this work begins to understand how representations are complicit in not only passively representing a city but also actively creating one.  Havana is a pertinent site for this research as for the first time Cubans have to decide how they present themselves to the world and actually have the agency to do so.  How are the different representations of Havana constructing an image of the government, of the society, and of the people?  What are the differences between how a governmental body constructs and disseminates an image of identity versus how an individual does?  How does Havana represent its aspirations for its approaching modernity?  In what ways, through the use of image, does the city attempt to reconcile its historical identity with its burgeoning one?  How should the city and its citizen instrumentalize its image authentically?  


When to go?

My travel to Havana would be planned in conjunction with one of the most important holidays in Cuba, “26 Julio”, which celebrates the anniversary of Fidel Castro’s 1953 assault on Santiago de Cuba’s Moncada Barracks, and thus marking the beginnings of the Cuban Revolution.  The fervor and patriotism is said to be celebrated with communist banners, posters, graffiti, rallies, and speeches. This event would commence 3 weeks of in-country research.


Projected Expenses

Airfare: $600.00

Research Materials + Museum Admission Costs: $350.00

Lodging + Living Expenses: $150.00/day totaling $3,150.00

Exhibition Displays + Printing: $2,000.00

Total: $6,100.00

Thank you for considering my research proposal. I am very excited by this opportunity and it would be an honor to be selected as the 2016 George G. Booth traveling fellow.


Megan Peters

Ann Arbor, Michigan



A Tale of Two Cities:
Representations of Havana, Cuba


00 Week - Upon Arrival

Seeking Assistance

Habana Re-Generación ( is an architectural think tank run by young Cuban architects.  I would like to arrange a meeting with them, as I believe they would be helpful for providing context and knowledge about the contemporary architectural culture within Havana.  As well, they would be able to provide me with “insider knowledge” of where to look for evocative representations of the city, more than I would be able to discover on my own.


01 Week - 25 JULY to 29 JULY

Seeking Historical Representations - Observing how government sponsorship and historical accounts represent the city.

Celebration for the anniversary of the Cuban Revolution

Habana Vieja

El Capitolio

Palacio de los Capitanes Generales

Plaza de la Revolución 

Cuartel de Moncada

Museo de la Revolucion


02 Week - 1 AUGUST to 5 AUGUST

Seeking Cultural Representations - Starting at the heart of the biennale,  examine how artists and other cultural agents use representation.

Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam (Main Office of the Biennale)

Escuelas Nacionales de Arte

Teatro Bertold Brecht

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

Fábrica de Arte Cubano

Kcho (multi-media art gallery)


03 Week - 8 AUGUST to 12 AUGUST

Seeking Representations in Daily Life - How the people of Havana endeavor to represent themselves and their city.

This would entail visits to places such as schools, churches, shops, restaurants, markets, movie theaters, public parks, soccer fields - the public places that make up everyday life in Havana.  Conversations with willing participants (local citizens)would also be beneficial at this stage. 

Project Delivery, 3 Ways

1 : Blog - Content describing my daily experiences, interactions, and overall thoughts and reactions while in Havana.


Post-travel, my research findings will be collected and presented as an exhibition and a printed publication.  Both will illustrate and explain the various facets of modern Cuban identity through the use of representation and aesthetics.


2 : Exhibition - At this time I imagine the exhibition using photographic and objet trouvé techniques to visually present the external and internal gazes of Havana.  Various exhibition techniques will be engaged to further emphasize the complicit relationship between representations, aesthetics and image.


3 : Publication - A more in depth analysis of how representations are constructed, disseminated, and instrumentalized within and outside of Havana.

Image Credit: Michael Eastman

Image Credit: Michael Eastman


Additional Information:

Original Announcement here.  //  More information and past fellows here.