The "Third" World

by Justine Beed (United States of America)

Making a local connection USA


I never told her my name and she never told me hers. I should have asked. She was a museum guard posted outside of Wilfredo Lam’s “El Tercer Mundo” at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana.. She smiled and asked me where I was from. I said the U.S.; blushing and hunching my shoulders. But she remained open, standing up from her chair and approaching me to talk about the color and vibrancy of contemporary Cuban art. She told me she loved working at the museum. That she got to meet all sorts of people. That the painting she sat in front of often brought people to tears. 'People see the tragedy in the world here, the inequality.' 'It’s really a sad painting and people can sit here for hours looking at it.' She then took a beaded bracelet from her wrist and attempted to clasp it around mine. 'A gift for you.' The fastener broke so she bit the metal in order for the bracelet to close and remain on my wrist. I wanted to give her something back, I should have given her something back, but I didn’t think money was the appropriate thing (but maybe it was?). Instead, after we parted ways, I thought about her warmth, about her energetic goodbye and bright smile. I thought about how once she wrapped that bracelet around my wrist I began to only think about our whole interaction as a story to tell later on. Wilfredo Lam was inspired by Picasso and Picasso was “inspired” by various African artists. Inspiration is drawn and taken. In drawing inspiration, erasure is also put into effect. Who gets to draw, who gets to take? Who is taken from? What is erased? Inspiration can be made to seem like an airy substance, when, really, its gritty earthy stuff, it’s a pair of dirtied hands (of the “Out, Out Damn Spot” variety). Maybe, in order for there to be some kind of True inspirational, cultural exchange there has to be a shaking of hands, a mutual acknowledgment of a shared muckiness. Yet, there is a history of one set of hands having a stronger, more manipulative grip. So what then? Self-awareness of the privileged artist and the shaking of hands with their muse isn’t enough. So what then? I’m losing the story and myself here (a good thing?). I walked out of the museum onto the cobbled street, down the road, by the water, to an apartment, to a bed stand table. I unclasped the bracelet and placed it there. Still, I thought about dark blues and greens. And bended bodies. And dirtied hands.