Basic Necessities

2021| Video installation and online database

In collaboration with Nestor Siré

commissioned by The Photographer’s Gallery London

Basic Necessities is a video installation that documents the dynamics and aesthetics of the Cuban digital black market on messenger services such as WhatsApp and Telegram. During the pandemic, these platforms became the central marketplace where Cubans traded and sold everyday products that were no longer available in state supermarkets. Throughout the period of enforced lockdowns, these groups further created essential spaces where citizens were able to share information about the availability of products in state-owned shops, creative entrepreneurs could offer online delivery services, and black-market vendors traded scarce goods.  The groups quickly garnered tens of thousands of members and became an inescapable necessity for many Cubans seeking to fulfill their basic daily needs. Taking a creative and research-based approach to exploring these practices, Basic Necessities offers a startling documentation of societal needs in a time of crisis and an intriguing investigation into the genre of product photography by examining the ways in which black market vendors present – and sell – their products on these platforms. 

In the form of a month-long live broadcast of four of the most active Telegram groups on the media wall of the Photographers’ Galley London, the work showed the social dynamics of this newly created market. It also included an online component that allowed visitors to browse hundreds of Telegram groups using a digital database. BasiCuba allowed visitors to search through hundreds of Telegram groups using a repository created by Rafael Rodríguez. The content, captured throughout the exhibition, was fed back into the database using bots installed in more than 400 Cuban group chats currently populated by more than 700,000 users.

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