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Spare Beauty: The Cuban Kitchen is a Feast for the Soul

There’s a meditative quality to the faded patchwork of blues, pinks and yellows that bring rich color to the modest cooking spaces on view in Spare Beauty: The Cuban Kitchen. The 30 dwellings photographer Ellen Silverman transports us to through her lens are gorgeously graphic, earnest and thought-provoking.

Documented during three trips to Cuba over the past year, Silverman’s graceful photos offer an intimate peek into the spaces where everyday Cubans craft their daily meals. The quality of light Silverman captures is exceptional; the shapes and textures arresting. A pile of simple mismatched plates; a unembellished rice cooker; small collections of aluminum stovetop espresso makers; a few plastic cups turned upside down over a worn kitchen towel to dry; the twists and turns of a graphic  floor tile pattern; the elegant curls of a spiral staircase flowing downward through a small cut out in a high ceiling — all of it bathed in a golden luminescence. Here is her title image:

Photo by Ellen Silverman

Silverman’s shots seldom reveal the actual dwellers themselves, which both encourages a focus on shape, color and light, and invites a contemplative and attentive eye. The decor we see might reveal an artist’s dwelling, intimate a family home or suggest a more solo life is lived within its walls. Yet even though most of the spaces are only perceivably populated, the soul of humankind is deeply felt. This is perhaps the most moving aspect of the work.

It is notably easy to get lost in the form and color these beautiful images, to forget that what’s relayed are humble circumstances–the “lack” as Silverman reminds us in her artist’s statement, of money and supplies. “What I experience as the grace and beauty of these spaces is deceiving” Silverman says. “While beautiful and visually stimulating to me, these kitchens are the very real circumstances of each person’s day to day life.  This is all that they have, and they must make do with just that. Everything is an improvisation.” 

“I have fallen in love with Cuba and the Cuban people,” the artist relates. “They are warm, engaging, curious, gentle and welcoming.  Once embraced by them and welcomed into their homes you feel permanently attached.  Cuba and her people draw you in and grab you by the heart.

Well, I have fallen in love with Silverman’s Cuba photos, and her fluid, subdued, very real and deeply personal way of communicating the spare beauty of a selection of Cuban kitchens and their inhabitants. And I know you will, too.

Here is a bit more of the work followed by details on where to see the show — both physically and virtually. Enjoy!

Photo by Ellen Silverman

Photo by Ellen Silverman

Catch this wonderful show at the Umbrella Galley at 317 East 9th Street in NYC until March 31st or view Silverman’s gorgeous work in an ongoing exhibit on her website.