An Unconventional Story of Love and Codependency

In an ongoing series, Peruvian photographer Gihan Tubbeh captures the unconditional love between a group of Cuban women and their animals.

© Gihan Tubbeh, from the series, Amor del bueno

Violeta has 66 cats and 5 dogs; Sonia has 30 cats and 6 dogs; Raysa has 28 dogs and 6 cats. The list goes on and on. All the women that Gihan Tubbeh encountered in Cuba share a mania for pets that goes beyond reason. “What I see is love, but a little bit twisted because they forget about themselves”, Tubbeh comments. “One of the women I met had 30 dogs in a very reduced place of 6 square metres. She had to build a bed hanging from the ceiling so that her dogs have space.”

The protagonists of Tubbeh’s ongoing series live in precarious conditions, in a reality reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s movies. Like their fellow citizens, they receive financial support from the state amounting to the tiny sum of 10 dollars per month, which is not enough to sustain one person and even less so when surrounded with a horde of animals. “They are happy nonetheless. One of these women told me that there is a lot of poverty but also a lot of love. That’s the subtitle of my entire trip to Cuba. People are so powerful in their heart that they accept the difficulties and limitations in the country. It’s a utopia in a way”, Tubbeh explains.

© Gihan Tubbeh, from the series, Amor del bueno

Technically speaking, these romantics are outlaws. For health reasons, the number of pets per household is regulated by the government - they don’t actively prevent anyone from having excessive numbers either though, as the system doesn’t provide any alternative way to deal with the large number of street cats and dogs.

As a result, the women Tubbeh encountered don’t let the animals out, by fear of having to cede them, and live in a confused and fetid jumble. “I stayed only with 2 of them overnight because it’s difficult. The women protect their space; they are afraid that I am going to judge their condition. And I have to forget that I'm stepping on poop and urine. But I want to continue”, she says.

© Gihan Tubbeh, from the series, Amor del bueno

Because behind the appearances lie incredible stories, like that of the unsuspected poet or of the ex-professional dancer who goes every Sunday to perform in a place with a lot of tourists, reviving her past. “She was the queen of something and it ended in misery”, Tubbeh recounts. Or that of a widow, exchanging a gaze with the fixed eyes of her late husband, whose portrait hangs in the living-room. As if in their past were clues to understanding their current love for animals.

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Gihan Tubbeh is a Peruvian freelance photographer. Her work has appeared in numerous publications across Peru and the world.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

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