Cuban Artists across the Diaspora. Setting the Tent against the House

By Clavo, Maria Iñigo | The International Journal of Cuban Studies, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Cuban Artists across the Diaspora. Setting the Tent against the House


Clavo, Maria Iñigo, The International Journal of Cuban Studies


Andrea O'Reilly Herrera, Cuban Artists across the Diaspora. Setting the Tent Against the House (University of Texas Press, 2011) pb 272pp. ISBN 9780292726956

Reviewed by Maria Iñigo Clavo

This book by Andrea O'Reilly Herrera takes a biographical journey through Cuban exile art via the exhibition project CAFE (Cuban American Foremost Exhibition). This series of exhibitions was mainly organised by Leandro Soto in America. Since its inception at the University of Massachusetts in 2001, it has been hosted by various academic institutions especially in states such as Arizona, Colorado and Wisconsin, but also in cities such as Rome and Cave Hill (Barbados), until its last issue in 2011 in Sangre de Cristo Arts Centre in Colorado. In this case, as in the 2002 edition, the author of the book was the co-curator of the event. More than just an exhibition, the CAFE unfolds as a meeting place for artists and intellectuals who share a common history of migration to what the author calls the fifteenth Cuban province, exile, which in her text focuses primarily on the United States. And it is clearly into an Anglo Saxon methodological framework that O'Reilly wants to place the debate and the conceptualisation of this Latin American reality: Stuart Hall's cultural negotiation, the disorienting loss of Edward Said, the in-between of Homi Bhabha, the multigenerational transmission of Cultural memory of James Cliffort, the altermodern of Nicolas Bourriaud and Antonio Benitez-Rojo run through the book as representing Cuban exile.

The book is divided into two main parts, the first contains a historical contextualisation of 'Cuban art' and an excellent conceptual review about migration: it stops short of rethinking and decentralising the concepts of diaspora, preferring to understand it as a centrifugal and centripetal force, given Cuban colonial history. Instead of uprooting: multi-rootedness, intermediate belongings, extended geography, delocalised nation, nomadism, culture, translation, Cuban insularity as another form of exile and even postmodernism, which it prefers to relocate from the proposed altermodernity of Bourriaud. In short, the author brings forward the idea of multi-Belonging, so the island itself (and nation), beyond being a fixed place, is seen from the diaspora as a 'moveable tent against the fixed house', and Cuba always as a work in progress.

The second part details the 'cafetero' artists, from their biography to their artistic work and vice versa. These are arranged in four perspectives: creolisation, landscape, memory, and displacement or disruption of space. All share an interest in expressing their experience of dislocation, their connections with Afro-Cuban culture and indigenous peoples, memory: their works have different formats but predominantly these two dimensions. The choice made here by the author is concerned with customising each artistic experience and life rather than focusing on the CAFE as an exhibition or event. This not only allows us to deepen our understanding of the individual works and create connections between the artists, but it also introduces us to the diverse exile experiences, travel and family separations, which make each experience unique.

CAFE is, then, a place and taste of encounter with memory, but also a link to colonial history and the export products which are necessarily linked to migration, legal and illegal, to work, plantations and slavery, i.e. racism and a still latent tradition of racial hierarchy, which not only affects afro-descendants but also Latinos in the USA. …

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