You Can Sleep in the Gallery When You’re Dead

by Tyler Mitchell

NYC Photographer Tyler Mitchell Orchestrates a Photography Show in his East Village Abode
I still find it crazy that in December, I turned mine and my roommates' 600 some-odd square foot two-bedroom apartment living room into a gallery space. The idea originated from my desire to make a livable world for El Paquete, my first ever self published photo book.  The book itself can only be described as a world I created as a result of the world I encountered in Havana.


Back in June, I signed up for a month-long trip to Havana, Cuba. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Five months, countless hours spent on InDesign, and 102 pages of my first ever photo book later, I arrived at this product to share with the world.

The book is a look at skateboarding in an emerging place–opposite of the commercial skate scene of the United Status [sic] that I know too well. It’s a look at the pastel smeared architecture of Havana–opposite of the brown and grey brick of New York that I know too well.


For the show, my co-curator Santangelo Williams and I set out to create a DIY tropical space. We wanted it to resemble the world that the book inhabits, but we had to use whatever resources were available. As 20-year-old college students, my living room was the best option. We filled the small, slanted East Village box with plants and clean white grid material. This gave it a weirdly geometric feeling, like a tropical showroom.


We propped up copies of the book on a long table. Other copies served as the table legs. Household-size palms sat on top of what we called the spiral bookcase, a spiraling tower of El Paquete’s.


I looped some of my favorite Cuban films including Una Noche and Soy Cuba throughout the one-day event. I invited friends, professors, artists, and collaborators to come spend the day with me. It was surreal. My space had become something new, walking the line between DIY apartment gallery, fashion showroom, and book-signing event.

When I talked with Flaunt, they asked me, Why's Cuba vital to you, Tyler? I thought about it, and realized that because of the current state it’s in, Cuba's culture is going to inevitably wash away. Right now, it has this freshness, this newness. It’s a young developing country still figuring things out like skateboarding and architecture, which are two things America has (in my opinion) overdone.


Cuba's pastel colors are everywhere, they make it feel young. At the same time, Cuba can feel distinctly old with the Soviet cars and 60s technologies. All of it combines to make Cuba a psychedelic place to visit. It’s distinctly different from NYC or Miami. Both of these places are over-industrialized and over-built, but Cuba has an honesty and scene-lessness that makes it a challenging place to visit. There are no advertisements around anywhere on the island, no billboards, nothing. Cuba feels untouched. It's like no other place I could imagine visiting. And in my opinion, this experience, it feels like it could be gone in the next 10 years.

El Paquete, a photo book capturing skating and architecture in Havana, Cuba is available here

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