Patria O Muerte, literally translated as ‘Homeland or Death’, is a photography exhibition by Dundee based artist Ross Fraser McLean. In 2009 McLean, who works with both digital and analogue photography, undertook a month of travelling around Cuba to mark the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. Patria O Muerte represents the collection of images taken during that month.
McLean’s presentation is extremely haphazard, mismatched frames hang in close proximity to one another and some are even overlapping on the walls. Not quite evoking the notion of a ‘salon’ hang, the curation instead parallels the spontaneous, egalitarian nature of McLean’s photography, and the Communist country itself. The mixture of antique frames with the bare wood and plastic and the unbiased application of frame to image creates a beautiful display, one that reflects the Cuban sense of community.
It’s difficult to separate the various images from one another. They are mostly observational street scenes, which avoid the appearance of ‘tourist’ photography, and manage to maintain a didactic nature. McLean skilfully captures the uneasy alliance between Communism and Capitalism by photographing objects, people, landscapes, intimate family scenes, sparse interiors and derelict streets.
Patria O Muerte might not initially appear subtle, with its opulent colours and erratic presentation. However, the adept manner in which McLean deals with the oscillation between the past and present in Cuba results in a conceptually engaging exhibition. Additionally, the composite, non-hierarchical nature of the images is an intelligent acknowledgement of a fiercely Communist country.