Iconic Cuban portraits included in Smithsonian Gallery collection

Hot off their trip to Miami Art Basel, Cuban-born photographer Alexis Rodríguez-Duarte and his partner and art director, Humberto “Tico” Torres, are thrilled about the many new portraits they’re adding to their existing permanent collection at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.

Currently, the two have 18 limited edition portraits from their “Cuba Out of Cuba” series and what the National Portrait Gallery calls the iconic photograph of Celia Cruz , “¡Yo soy de Cuba la voz - Guantanamera!” from the cover of their book, “Presenting Celia Cruz.”

“We had Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, and Nuyorican portraits, but there is this whole impulse of documenting one’s own community and Alexis and Tico’s work systematically honors the Cuban- American community,” Associate Curator of Latino Art and History at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian, Taína B. Caragol, told Fox

Caragol says including Rodríguez-Duarte’s and Torres’ portraits in the gallery is meaningful because she’s intent on making sure the collection reflects the multicultural richness of the U.S., and because of the quality of their work.

“They have a wonderful collaborative relationship that creates beautiful photographs,” she said. “They work at the intersection of fashion and portraiture and conjure a special mix of artifice…Through this collection people will see the range of contributions Cuban-Americans have made to this society.” 

Rodríguez-Duarte and Torres began the “Cuba Out of Cuba” portrait series in 1994 after they were commissioned for a shoot for Art & Antiques magazine featuring Cuban artists living in the United States.

They have been working together for nearly 34 years. The two got their start in the 80s working with photographer Bruce Weber on the Obsession perfume campaign for designer Calvin Klein.

“That campaign really put South Beach and Miami on the map," Torres told Fox "Weber was a pioneer and he was the person who encouraged us to expand on the idea of shooting Cuban-Americans,” Rodriguez-Duarte said.

The two say they realized Cuban culture in the U.S. was dying with their grandparents, as their families all wanted to assimilate as quickly as they could.

Their work documenting Cuban-American icons started when they were living in London, and saw a poster while on their way to a Celia Cruz performance.

“We tracked her down and someone put her on the phone. She invited us to a press conference, and then to her hotel room for tea and biscuits. We considered her “la reina” (the queen) of Cuba, and here we were having tea with her,” Tico said.

Rebekah Sager is a writer and editor for She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @rebekah_sager.