Manchester University
Oak Leaves

September 16, 2016

Cuban Dancers
Photograph by William Rasdell, part of the collection "CUBA: Looking back on 20 years" Havana, Cuba 2000

Photographer Captures Cuba's Vibrant Culture

Cass Ratliff

There’s a party on the third floor of the Academic Center, where William Rasdell’s photographs of Cuban musicians and dancers adorn the walls.

“My work as an artist examines the contributions of people of color to societies around the globe,” Randell wrote in his artist’s statement about this exhibit. “In telling this story, it would be neglectful to omit two of the most valued gifts, music and dance. The images present-ed here reflect my interpretations of these offerings as I have been moved by their energies.”

Rasdell’s wispy images and spurts of color evoke a wide variety of emotions, such as pride and empowerment. From attraction to the subject matter to recognition of the techniques, Rasdell’s art is open to any kind of interpretation.
The artist picked up a camera for the first time in 1975 and has since used it as a medi-um to speak out and satisfy his passion. “My work is strongly influenced by issues related to mi-gration as a transforming agent in cultural evolution,” he writes on his website. “For much of my career I have focused on the impact of the African presence throughout the Diaspora. My work is an attempt to understand how these cultural relationships have evolved into contemporary socie-ties.” Along with photographing Cuba, Rasdell has turned his artistic lens to photographing South Africa, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Grenada, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad/Tobago and locations all over the United States.
Rasdell hosts workshops as a means of teaching kids how to use photography to ex-press their culture and take pride in their lives. In addition to this, Rasdell has started a program called “My City, My World,” through which students receive cameras and take pictures of their worlds. The students, in turn, upload their photographs to an online gallery and get to be a part of a bigger community, as they see other students’ photographs of their worlds. There are even stu-dents in Indianapolis, IN, who are in correspondence with students as far away as Cape Town, South Africa.  
Professor Jena Oke, who brought Rasdell’s work to the Academic Center, likes to en-gage students and faculty by taking art outside of the classroom or gallery and into the hallways. As Manchester University’s gallery director, Oke chooses which artist is featured on each floor of the Academic Center, and she changes the art regularly. “I try really hard to connect to the academic interests of the disciplines that are on each floor, but sometimes the connections are very faint,” Oke said. “Maybe I know that the people who work and live in those buildings love music or love dance or love color. And, if it’s artwork I think they would enjoy or they tell me they enjoy, I hang it for them.” Oke is always on the look for artists to feature and is open to suggestions from students and faculty.