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Institute of Contemporary Art Miami


ICA Miami’s Knight Foundation Art + Research Center Afro-Cuba: Contemporary Art and Ritual Symposium

Art + Research
Fri, Aug 16, 2024
12pm - 3:30pm
René Peña, Milk, 2018. Photography on cotton paper. 24 × 35 4/5 in | 61 × 91 cm René Peña, Milk, 2018. Photography on cotton paper. 24 × 35 4/5 in | 61 × 91 cm

This one-day free symposium features a set of presentations and critical dialogues around the contemporary art and rituals of Afro-Cuba. This symposium is led by scholars of Caribbean cultural studies and aesthetics, anthropology, and religious studies. Through a variety of aesthetic, ethnographic, historical, and socio-cultural methods, you will learn about the works of Black Cuban artists along with the complex histories and lived traditions of Afro-Cuban rituals.


Symposium Schedule:

12pm-1pm: Talk by Stephan Palmié

El monte — Then and Now

This lecture takes the 70th anniversary of the publication of Lydia Cabrera’s magnum opus El monte, and its first English translation as an occasion to reflect on the perplexing nature of Cabrera’s text. Cabrera was one of the most prolific ethnographers of the African derived ritual traditions of Cuba that she observed between the 1930s and 1950s. Not unlike American salvage ethnography at the time, El monte thrives on the trope of vanishing traditional authenticity. Yet the result was and still is a thoroughly undisciplined hybrid text, a multi-voiced modernist literary experiment. As such, El monte has been a permanent source of frustration for anthropologists fighting an uphill battle in aiming to extract ethnographic data from it. The book has received rather more attention from literary scholars who, in often equally reductive fashion, tend to focus on Cabrera’s gender and sexual orientation.  My argument is that Font-Navarrete’s careful translation and annotation of El monte – a reappropriation for twenty-first century audiences of both scholars and practitioners – should give us reason to rethink our own ethnographic and authorial practices.

1pm-2pm: Talk by Elizabeth Pérez

Conceiving (of) & Consuming the Orishas: From Catholic Chromos to Visual Art to AI.

In this lecture, Pérez will explore depictions of the Yorùbá-inspired Afro-Cuban deities called orishas in the contemporary artworks of such luminaries as multimedia artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons and painter Harmonia Rosales. She will discuss these artists’ innovations in representing the orishas’ Blackness and creatively subverting traditional conventions for their portrayal that derive in part from the iconography of Roman Catholic chromolithographs. Pérez then turns to the explosion of AI-generated pictures of the orishas in cyberspace and argues that, while digital image generators have given practitioners unprecedented license to render (and racialize) the orishas, they also threaten to reinscribe stereotypes that Black and Afro-Cuban artists have labored to dismantle.

2pm-2:30pm: coffee break

2:30pm-3:30pm: Odette Casamayor-Cisneros

Reinventing the Self: The Identity Politics of Contemporary Afro-Cuban Women Artists

This talk examines ethical-aesthetic processes of self-identification in the works of contemporary Afro-Cuban women artists, including Belkis Ayón, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Susana Pilar Delahante Matienzo, Gertrudis Rivalta, and Juana Valdés. These processes, which Prof. Casamayor-Cisneros’ conceptualizes as acts of ontological self-birth, involve deconstructing notions of blackness, womanhood, and Cubanness, thereby generating new forms of identification. By studying their visual and performative works, she argues that self-birthing enables Black women to escape the epistemological system that categorizes them as “others.” Thus, Casamayor-Cisneros terms this process epistemological marronage, highlighting how Black women’s intersectional counter-hegemonic agency challenges hetero-patriarchal, colonialist, and Eurocentric narratives. A key focus of her analysis is the concept of monstrosity: examining how self-portraiture as powerful “uncanny” creatures conveys the Black woman’s namelessness and unfathomability—that is, the impossibility to be conceptually apprehended by the hegemonic epistemology, once stereotypical identities are rejected.

About Stephan Palmié

Stephan Palmié (Dr. Phil, University of Munich 1989; Habilitation, University of Munich 1999) is the Edna and Norman Freehling Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Das Exil der Götter: Geschichte und Vorstellungswelt einer afrokubanischen Religion (1991), Wizards and Scientists: Explorations in Afro-Cuban Modernity and Tradition (2002), The Cooking of History: How Not to Study Afro-Cuban Religion (2013), and Thinking with Ngangas: What Afro-Cuban Ritual Can Tell Us about Scientific Praxis – and Vice Versa (2023) as well as the editor of several volumes on Caribbean and Afro-Atlantic anthropology and history.

About Elizabeth Pérez

Elizabeth Pérez (Ph.D., University of Chicago Divinity School, 2010) is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her first book, Religion in the Kitchen: Cooking, Talking, and the Making of Black Atlantic Traditions (New York University Press, 2016), received the 2017 Clifford Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion and Honorable Mention for the Caribbean Studies Association’s 2019 Barbara T. Christian Literary Award. In 2022, she was awarded the LGBTQ-RAN (Religious Archives Network) Educational Resource Prize. Her second book, The Gut: A Black Atlantic Alimentary Tract (Cambridge University Press, 2023), was recognized earlier this year with the American Folklore Society’s first annual Leonard Norman Primiano Book Prize on Vernacular Cathol

About Odette Casamayor-Cisneros

Odette Casamayor-Cisneros is an Associate Professor of Latin American & Caribbean Cultural Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the Inaugural Roberto C. Goizueta Distinguished Presidential Fellow at the University of Miami’s Cuban Heritage Collection. She holds a Ph.D. in Arts and Literature from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris and a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Havana. Casamayor-Cisneros is the author of Utopia, dystopia e ingravidez: reconfiguraciones cosmológicas en la narrativa postsoviética cubana(Vervuert, 2013) and the short story collection Una casa en los Catskills (Secta de los perros & Letras cubanas, 2013 & 2016). She is currently working on two new books: In Black Ink: Writings from the Flesh of a Black Cuban Woman and On Being Blacks: Self-Identification Processes and Counter-Hegemonic Knowledge in Contemporary Cuban Cultural Production