Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Museums of the World – No 1 In An Occasional Series

The Cuban Museum of the Revolution weaves its way in and around the former Presidential Palace in downtown Havana. It is a curious mixture of hectoring monument and modest local museum. The exhibits are a little forlorn: slightly dog eared wax works, patchy Hornby style models illustrating strategic military campaigns, curling photographs, assorted memorabilia.

Every conceivable detail of the revolutionary struggle (Che Guevara’s pyjamas, avacado production statistics from 1976) is included almost without discrimination, certainly without regard for entertainment value. The text is bracingly partisan and inscrutably detailed. All of it is contained in utilitarian vitrines within the beaux arts interiors of the palace which, ironically, dominates the exhibit it houses.

The friendship between Che Guevara and Fidel Castro is sentimentally told and retold throughout the museum, the bonhomie and mutual respect built up to saccharine proportions. The two are endlessly photographed embracing, sharing a joke on the ramparts, leaning over battle strategy diagrams, chomping cigars.

Outside the palace a 1960’s honeycomb structure shelters various revolutionary vehicles: an armoured car made from agricultural equipment, the fuselage of a US U2 plane shot down (allegedly by Castro himself of course) during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Inside a glass box at the centre of the pavilion is Granma, the famous boat in which Fidel and 100 others travelled from Mexico to Cuba to kickstart the revolution in 1956.

I love museums. The more down at heel the better too. I've no time for sophisticated animatronics or interactive screens. I prefer musty exhibits mouldering under glass. The Museum of the Revolution’s incomprehensible diagrams of long forgotten battles and modest mementos have an eerie poignancy. In its own indifference to entertainment and its belligerant self-belief it is an exhibit in itself.


mario b. said...

that next-to-last picture looks like that orchid thingy built in medellín just recently...

loving the serie cubana.


Charles Holland said...

thanks mario, there's more to come in the 'what i saw on my holiday' slot!

and, yes, it does if it's the one I think it is.