Artist Andres Serrano On Photographing Cuba08:07
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Artist Andres Serrano says he's waited for six years for President Obama to normalize relations with Cuba.

Serrano's mother was Cuban and he only spoke in Spanish with her, even though they lived in New York. Serrano says in one way or another, Cuba was always on his mind. He told Here & Now's Robin Young that as a child growing up in the U.S., he was stigmatized as "Cuban" and "Castro."

Serrano went to Cuba in 2012 and took thousands of pictures and exhibited at the Havana Biennale. He told Robin Young he was trying capture a different picture of Cuba from the romantic ones we normally see.

"I was trying to get to the people of Cuba, to show how people live, and so I photographed all kinds of people. I photographed people who are considered middle class people, I photographed people who are considered lower class people. I photographed people who lived in houses with dirt floors," he said.

Serrano is also known for his controversial 1987 work, in which he submerged a plastic crucifix in his urine and photographed it. It was called “Piss Christ.”

Interview Highlights

On his reception in Cuba, despite his controversial work

“They received me with open arms. In fact someone once called me a Cuban artist even though I wasn’t born in Cuba. Certainly, when I went there to do my thing, I did it better than anywhere else. Oftentimes I would go up to strangers' homes and be invited to go in there and take pictures of people I didn’t even know. I was embraced very well.”

On what he wanted to capture on his trip to Cuba

“I was trying to capture a picture of Cuba that was different from the pictures of Cuba, the books on Cuba that I’ve seen, meaning the romantic 1950s cars, the colonial houses and the beautiful light. I was trying to get to the people of Cuba. It’s a very different experience for me going as an American tourist and thinking ‘the people are so happy, always singing and dancing on the street.’ Even though I saw some singing in the clubs, I didn’t see people particularly dancing on the streets. You know if you had no credit cards, if you had no money, if you had no iPhone and very little access to the Internet — and no way of making a living — I don’t think you’d be doing much singing in the streets yourself.”

Guest

This segment aired on December 19, 2014.

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