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Found in Translation
Alysa Nahmias chats with audience members after screening Unfinished Spaces. Photo by Jennifer Prediger.
Found in Translation
Jamila Zbanic (second from left), director of Grbavica, and Alysa Nahmias (fourth from left) sight-seeing in Puerto Rico with FILM FORWARD. Photo by Jennifer Prediger.

Found in Translation

Alysa Nahmias is the co-director of 'Unfinished Spaces,' a documentary about the visionary design of Cuba's National Art Schools in the wake of Fidel Castro's Revolution. She joined FILM FORWARD in Puerto Rico this week to screen the film for local audiences and participate in post-screening discussions.

“A work of art is the sum of its destructions.” / "Una obra de arte es una suma de destrucciones.”

- Pablo Picasso, 1954

Yesterday’s FILM FORWARD screening of Unfinished Spaces at the Escuela de Artes Plasticas in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was overflowing. After the film, the panelists and the audience discussed whether the Cuban National Art Schools are more beautiful as ruins than they would be if the architects could finish their works. In a sense, they are. There is mystery in the ruin just as there is promise in the sketch. Nobody can restore the past or predict the future, and yet we must all create the future, using only the ruins of the past in which we live.

One of the panelists, Prof. Lilliana Ramos Collado of the University of Puerto Rico, quoted Picasso in this context, and her insight opened up a discussion for the panelists and the audience members about the future of Puerto Rico’s own Escuela de Artes Plasticas, whose students have recently battled to keep their state funding  and stop the school from being “destroyed.”

A man in the audience eloquently explained how much he appreciated images of the Cuban jungle overtaking the buildings in the film – and it reminded him of how in Old San Juan, there are many instances of Nature “hugging” (abrazando) the architecture. It was a splendid metaphor that I’d never heard before, but I like the way it sounds in Spanish or in English, and it rings true to the film’s narrative.

As others in the audience stood up to share stories of buildings in Old San Juan that stand in ruins, overtaken by vegetation and time, I quickly learned that the Puerto Ricans can completely relate to the Cuban experience of living in the powerful Caribbean climate. According to Prof. Ramos, scientists have even begun to study the taxonomy of plants growing on urban structures in Puerto Rico.

And happily, it’s not only vegetation taking over the abandoned buildings, but art as well. We experienced this first-hand that very evening at the screening of Jasmila Zbanic’s film Grbavica at the Contrafuerte. The venue was an abandoned industrial building on the island of Old San Juan, which had been taken over by an art collective as an exhibition space. The outdoor projection of Grbavica in the courtyard of this reclaimed space certainly evoked the connection Picasso drew between destruction and creation.

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