Maria Lau

“Chinese-Cuban roots and thrifting prizes” Miami Herald

May 24, 2004

"Chinese-Cuban roots and thrifting prizes"

BY: ELISA TURNER

The world has already seen enough photographs of vintage American cars huddled on crumbling Havana street corners; there are far fewer images of the Cuban capital's Chinatown.

Once a bustling enclave of restaurants, Chinese language newspapers and theaters showing films from Hong Kong, the Barrio de Chino in Havana fell into a swift decline following Fidel Castro's rise to power in 1959, when many business owners of Chinese descent fled to the United States.

At Diaspora Vibe Gallery in the Design District, photography and video by New Jersey-based artist Maria Lau give a too-brief look at a neighborhood with a compelling history.

Families of Chinese-Cuban ancestry can trace their roots to contract laborers who arrived to work on the island's sugar plantations in the mid-19th century, as well as to veterans of the California Gold Rush and refugees of modern Chinese civil wars. Lam Yam, father of Cuban modernist painter Wifredo Lam, was a Cantonese-born shopkeeper and scribe who arrived in Cuba in the 19th Century by way of San Francisco and Mexico.

At the turn of the 20th century, Havana's Chinatown was considered the largest, most vibrant concentration of Chinese culture and cuisine in Latin America.

In her art, Lau reveals the old neighborhood to be less than a ghost of its former glory. In these grainy color photographs of typical Havana scenes, with rusting motorcycles and wheezing 1950s cars, the typical sense of dusty fatigue is palpable. But the added dimension of cloudy, double-exposed imagery hints at a less familiar past, with the fading presence of Chinese characters and Chinese names embossed on storefronts and apartment buildings.

The work is both documentary and personal journey...Among them: Dad Divination, a passport-type photo of her father as a young man, with images of slim wooden strips bearing Chinese characters superimposed over his face. The wooden strips are divination sticks Lau used at a family altar in Havana, and in the photograph they become both barriers and keys to memory.


“Chinese-Cuban roots and thrifting prizes” Miami Herald

May 24, 2004

"Chinese-Cuban roots and thrifting prizes"

BY: ELISA TURNER

The world has already seen enough photographs of vintage American cars huddled on crumbling Havana street corners; there are far fewer images of the Cuban capital's Chinatown.

Once a bustling enclave of restaurants, Chinese language newspapers and theaters showing films from Hong Kong, the Barrio de Chino in Havana fell into a swift decline following Fidel Castro's rise to power in 1959, when many business owners of Chinese descent fled to the United States.

At Diaspora Vibe Gallery in the Design District, photography and video by New Jersey-based artist Maria Lau give a too-brief look at a neighborhood with a compelling history.

Families of Chinese-Cuban ancestry can trace their roots to contract laborers who arrived to work on the island's sugar plantations in the mid-19th century, as well as to veterans of the California Gold Rush and refugees of modern Chinese civil wars. Lam Yam, father of Cuban modernist painter Wifredo Lam, was a Cantonese-born shopkeeper and scribe who arrived in Cuba in the 19th Century by way of San Francisco and Mexico.

At the turn of the 20th century, Havana's Chinatown was considered the largest, most vibrant concentration of Chinese culture and cuisine in Latin America.

In her art, Lau reveals the old neighborhood to be less than a ghost of its former glory. In these grainy color photographs of typical Havana scenes, with rusting motorcycles and wheezing 1950s cars, the typical sense of dusty fatigue is palpable. But the added dimension of cloudy, double-exposed imagery hints at a less familiar past, with the fading presence of Chinese characters and Chinese names embossed on storefronts and apartment buildings.

The work is both documentary and personal journey...Among them: Dad Divination, a passport-type photo of her father as a young man, with images of slim wooden strips bearing Chinese characters superimposed over his face. The wooden strips are divination sticks Lau used at a family altar in Havana, and in the photograph they become both barriers and keys to memory.