Book Power!


Steven Daiber
Red Trillium Press
Williamsburg, MA

Cincuenta y un Familias: Cincuenta y un Anos : A Collaboration with Cuban Families 2010

In 2007, I was given two libretas and challenged to make a book. I understood the Cuban State subsidized food programs but had no idea how the system worked in daily life. Quickly reading them I discovered each libreta records one year of supplies such as bread, meat, beans and even tobacco for a household.

These 51 libratas are the strongest collaborative book I've done to date. Imagine someone one—a stranger—asking for your ID, your address, names and birthrates of all the members of your family and a list of the food allotted to you by the local food bank. Everyone goes to the food bank—you have to. That what I asked of my friends.

When I compared the libretas to my parent’s ration books used during WWII the response I received was, "yes, yes, every foreigner relates to these ration books to wartime".

When I showed the libretas to Cubans before returning home the reaction was mixed—awe, pride, sadness or horror, sometimes a quiet shaking of the head. On seeing them bound together, one curator pushed herself away from the table. Brushing her hands together side to side, she stood up and stepped even further away from them, refusing to look—too many libratas, too much history. Rice, beans and bread for 12-14 days a month for 1 year—if the rice or beans are available.

Returning in 2010 how was I, a foreigner, going to get any libretas in Cuba? They were not for sale in the used bookstalls in Plaza de Armas in Old Havana. I needed the help of my Cuban friends. Little by little I was given over one hundred libretas. Every libreta is very personal. Bound together as whole, I am in a small way the trustee of each family’s story. An essay by the Cuban ethongrapher Abel Sierra accompanies the book. Fifty percent of each sale of this book returns to Cuba as art supplies.

51 libretas sewn on cords. 5.25 x 3.25 x 6.25 inches. Open edition. 2010. Two produced this year. $5000

To purchase, please contact Laura at 23 Sandy Gallery.

View Poder, also by Steve Daiber, here.


All images and text copyright the artists and authors. All rights reserved.