Iskánder comes from a family of artists. His father, a TV/Film director and a scriptwriter, and his mother, an actress and director, raised him inside the TV world, surrounded by artists from all fields. Since he was a little child, he spontaneously expressed himself through different manifestations of art: painting, music, poetry… During his adolescence period he was given his first photographic camera and fell in love with that amazing process; it was a Russian camera, a cmena. However, and despite he had no means to have another one, he gave his own to a friend who to him needed it more than himself. In the scarcity of his resources he wasn’t going to have another one for more than 20 years.
At the age of 17th he was determined to work on a TV set, doing any job he could get. He wanted to direct, and he had all the knowledge and skills for it, he had absorbed everything about it as he grew up being on a TV set, and after all, that medium contained all the other manifestations of art. But his parents strongly opposed to his need and he entered university to study Art History. He started it three times but dropped out every one of them, as he later dropped out the Film/TV direction degree. His anxiousness for getting started was too immense. He was so determined not to waste more time and to begin his director career that he managed in 1989, when he was twenty, to work as an assistant director. He made his debut with the 21 chapters series “From your Dream to my Dream” (De tu Sueño a mi Sueño), which was directed by his father. He worked then as an assistant director in another series in 1992, and in 1996 he made his first work as director in the 90 chapters’ series “All to the Fire”, for which he won a national award. Nevertheless, he wasn’t too welcome in the Cuban National TV Institute and he was never allowed to make his own scripts. In 2005, tired of watching his work being excluded, whether by the TV Institute, Film Industry or Editorial sphere with his more than 11 poetry books unpublished in his country, he saw he was being led to only two choices: leaving the country or taking his own life. Instead, he chose a third one.
Having no resources at all thru his entire life, he thought of joining neighbors, friends and collaborators to make an underground film around the house he was living in. In 2006 he made his first film, a long-feature fiction titled “Tomorrow” (Mañana), the first independent 100% Cuban film accepted by the government to be commercially exhibited on the island. In 2008, still with no resources, and with the collaboration of friends, he made the second part of that trilogy began with “Tomorrow”. This second film was titled “Now” (Ahora), a crude and shocking long-feature documentary about Cuban youth migration.
It wasn’t until 2009, 24 years later, that he had a camera on his hands again. It all happened in an unsuspected way. That year, his wife got sick and was confined in a bed for several months with some bone disorder the doctors couldn’t figure it out. During that period at home, iskánder took a guest to live with them, a baby hummingbird that he picked up after a rainstorm and wouldn’t live the house, though he was free. He started taking pictures of ‘Wilbur’ –the baby hummingbird-, and from his wife, using whenever possible, the camera from his brother-in-law. He collected through those images, the sadness and happiness he and his wife experienced during that “lock up” state and you can clearly see it in the photographs. As time passed by, the portraits increased by thousands, and a friend, eager for iskánder to keep on working on those beautiful and intense images, gave him a camera as a gift.
Gisela Hidalgo, the president of Doral Art & Culture Chamber of Commerce, fell in love with iskánder’s photographs and invited him to participate in an exhibition her entity was organizing in the United States. ‘Close Encounters’ was opened at Aba House Gallery and Miami Dade College West Gallery at August 6th, 2010.
He previously made an exhibition of photographs about the film he is currently finishing: “Those who won’t die” (Los que no van a morir), a long-feature documentary about the Cuban hip hop duo Los Aldeanos. That photographic show, which he made together with the artists Laura Portilla and Giulietta Vigueras, was so well received, that it has remained at Havana’s Head Office of SGAE for over a year.
In 2000, he published along with Cuban photographer Miguel Ángel Báez and Cuban painter Ernesto Rancaño the art book “Mirrors Happen, 43 Cuban Painters”. This book containing photographs, paintings and poetry was catalogued by the critics as the 2000-2001 publishing event in plastic arts in Cuba.
In 2001 he was invited for one month at Djerassi Resident Artist Program in San Francisco, California, where he received the order Dale Djerassi Fellowship.
He has also offered poetry concerts in Cuba, in various cities of the United States of America, and in Mexico. He has written 5 long-feature scripts and has 3 in development.
As artist, iskánder is into showing/sharing “something simple”. He believes in the efficiency of what’s apparently simple in the artistic speech. For him, in art, less is more.
About his most recent photographic work he has said:
“… I’ve been working day after day for over a year to catch sight of the human condition, if it does exist, plain, firm, simple, feminine… I know I’ve found it… I know I can show it. I have a tribe of images to testify for it.”
Now, that he has a camera on his hands again, he can’t stop ‘looking’ through it at all the beauty surrounding him, the beauty that lies in everything, the beauty ignored or taken for granted.
And zooming in on it for anyone to see.
by Diana Chiong