Bildner Center: Arts, Facts and Artifacts: Legacy of Cuba’s Special Period
Monday, May 1, 2017
4-6pm, Room C201/02
The Graduate Center, CUNY
Beyond the Cabinet of Curiosities:Archiving the Material Legacy of the Special Period
Elzbieta Sklodowska, Washington University
The spirit of transience and improvisation that permeated daily existence during the Special Period in Cuba in the 1990s did not lend itself to the creation and preservation of objects of enduring quality and aesthetic value. And yet, the material archive of the Special Period is surprising in its diversity, ranging from extraordinary everyday artifacts (re)created by ordinary people intuitively following the premise of the “Three Rs”—“Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”—to works of art inspired by the fundamental strategy of bricolage, from visual testimonies (cartoons, photos) of the never-ending process of rethinking, reusing and reinventing, to the process of collecting and documenting these “rustic” inventions and transplanting them from Cuban households, streets, and farms into books, catalogues, and galleries. This paper analyzes some of these “survivalist” products and strategies, which grew out of extreme scarcity only to gain the resonance not only as part of a sui generis “cabinet of curiosities” but, more importantly, as compelling witnesses to the resilience of Cuban people.
Cuban Material Culture and the Special Period
María A. Cabrera Arús, New York University
After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, the material culture of the country was radically transformed, incorporating the modernizing ethos of the state socialist material culture along with the endemic scarcity of centrally-planned economies. The collapse of the state socialist regimes of Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the USSR changed once more the material practices in the country, and the meanings associated with them. During the Special Period, euphemism with which the Cuban government named the years that followed the disappearance of the Soviet Bloc, practices of make-do acquired central stage, becoming determinant not only to individuals but also to the own regime’s survival, while other material dynamics emerged. My presentation will focus on the transformation of the material order, practices and meanings, during the Special Period transition from a state socialist materiality to a capitalist globalized one.
The Disruptive Politics of ‘Diáspora(s)’ Journal in the Special Period
Walfrido Dorta, New York University
Seen today, the copies of the journal Diáspora(s) (1997-2002) are objects marked by the precariousness inherent to the 1990s in Cuba and the Special Period. However, at a technical and visual level the journal was innovative because it was a collection of sheets composed by computer, printed and photocopied in black and white, when texts were typed in Cuba and printed traditionally. The poor, monochrome materiality of these copies contrasts with the intellectual intensity unfolding within them. An intensity that also permeates the works of art used as covers and back covers in the journal, all of Cuban artists. Through them Diáspora(s) also unfolds its transgressions. My presentation will address the materiality of the journal in the context of the Cuban Special Period and the different transgressions that Diáspora(s) carried out.
Jacqueline Loss, University of Connecticut