Indiscipline and Counter-memory in Afro-Cuban Art (“El pasado mío”)

Elizabeth Pozo Rubio reviews the exhibition “El pasado mío / My Own Past: Afrodescendant Contributions to Cuban Art,” which is on view through December 21, 2022, at the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center (Massachusetts, United States) and was curated by Alejandro de la Fuente (Director, Afro-Latin American Research Institute), Bárbaro Martínez Ruiz (Tanner-Opperman Chair in Honor of Roy Sieber, Indiana University) Cary A. García Yero (Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, Freie Universität, Berlin and Leibniz Universität Hannover) and Sebastián Pérez (Trinity School, NYC).

Pozo Rubio introduces her review by saying, “El pasado mío (My Own Past) examines the expressive textures of a Cuban population that is underrepresented in the official discourse of the island. In addition to exploring the aesthetic folds of African-rooted creation in Cuba, the exhibition sheds light on the real contexts in which black artists developed.” Here are excerpts; see the full article at C& América Latina.

El pasado mío/My own past looks at Cuban black culture, bringing together anthological works and current aesthetic languages. The visual arts exhibition, which opened at the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery (the only art institution dedicated to the art of the African diaspora at Harvard University), examines the expressive textures of a Cuban ethnos that is underrepresented in the official discourse of the island yet scarcely positioned as central to rewriting its art narratives. In contrast to this underrepresentation of Afro-descendant artists’ agency within the national geography, Alejandro de la Fuente, from Harvard University, who has led previous initiatives and conducted extensive intellectual and academic work, worked with a group of researchers, including Cary A. García Yero and Bárbaro Martínez-Ruiz, to show how this story of local production has been soiled and racialized.

Putting more than fifty pieces in dialogue, the exhibition combines a repertoire that ranges from Vicente Escobar’s colonial portraits and modernist compositions to more contemporary iconographies such as those of Belkis Ayón Manso, Manuel Mendive Hoyo, René Peña, Juan Roberto Diago Durruthy and Susana Pilar Delahante Matienzo. It allows for an immersive experience into the visual poetics of those who, being the bearers of an ancestral heritage, have embodied a mixed Afro-Cuban cosmo-perception.

Canvases, sculptures and dissimilar techniques regenerate questions about the subaltern lives of those who came to Caribbean land as the economic arms of a society that later relegated them to the margins and reveal the artist as a site of dispute around othering, heterogeneity and the exploited identities of Cuban negritude. With this, each work emerges from an immersive practice in power relations, a silent witnessing of the tensions that the artists had to go through to position themselves within their context where the visual worlds are the testimony of their resistance within an exclusive social architecture. [. . .]

In this restorative way, El pasado mío shows the universes and perspectives of Afro-descendants as active agents in the substratum of Cuban imagination. The rhythms and counter-times of their spiritualities and carnalities break free as constitutive zones of a nation woven from processes of violence and clashes. [. . .]

Read full review article at

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[Photo by Melissa Blackall: View of works by Juan Carlos Alom and María Magdalena Campos Pons.]

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