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Cuban Artists Across the Diaspora

Cuban Artists Across the Diaspora
Setting the Tent Against the House

Continuing the conversation she began in ReMembering Cuba: Legacy of a Diaspora, O'Reilly Herrera interviews artists who have participated in the ongoing exhibition CAFÉ: The Journeys of Cuban Artists to discover how these artists preserve and transform their Cuban identity.

Series: Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowment in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture

June 2011
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272 pages | 7 x 10 | 19 b&w and 62 color photos |

As an island—a geographical space with mutable and porous borders—Cuba has never been a fixed cultural, political, or geographical entity. Migration and exile have always informed the Cuban experience, and loss and displacement have figured as central preoccupations among Cuban artists and intellectuals. A major expression of this experience is the unconventional, multi-generational, itinerant, and ongoing art exhibit CAFÉ: The Journeys of Cuban Artists. In Cuban Artists Across the Diaspora, Andrea O'Reilly Herrera focuses on the CAFÉ project to explore Cuba's long and turbulent history of movement and rupture from the perspective of its visual arts and to meditate upon the manner in which one reconstitutes and reinvents the self in the context of diaspora.

Approaching the Cafeteros' art from a cultural studies perspective, O'Reilly Herrera examines how the history of Cuba informs their work and establishes their connections to past generations of Cuban artists. In interviews with more than thirty artists, including José Bedia, María Brito, Leandro Soto, Glexis Novoa, Baruj Salinas, and Ana Albertina Delgado, O'Reilly Herrera also raises critical questions regarding the many and sometimes paradoxical ways diasporic subjects self-affiliate or situate themselves in the narratives of scattering and displacement. She demonstrates how the Cafeteros' artmaking involves a process of re-rooting, absorption, translation, and synthesis that simultaneously conserves a series of identifiable Cuban cultural elements while re-inscribing and transforming them in new contexts.

An important contribution to both diasporic and transnational studies and discussions of contemporary Cuban art, Cuban Artists Across the Diaspora ultimately testifies to the fact that a long tradition of Cuban art is indeed flourishing outside the island.

  • Acknowledgments
  • "For the Cuban Dead," by Ricardo Pau-Llosa
  • Café cubano à la Grisel
  • Introduction. Setting the Tent Against the House
  • Chapter One. Cuban Cultural Expression On and Off the Island: The Condition of "Unfreedom"
    • Oppositional Art in Cuba: Volumen Uno and the 1980s Generation
    • The Soviet Socialist Art Movement
    • Puré
    • Arte Calle
    • Cuban Art Outside the Island
  • Chapter Two. Repeating the Unrepeatable: CAFÉ and the Journeys of Cuban Artists
    • The Origins of CAFÉ
    • CAFÉ in a Postindustrial Age
  • Chapter Three. Mapmaking in Diaspora: A Crumb of Madeleine
    • CAFÉ: An Encounter with Newness
  • Chapter Four. CAFÉ and the Cuban Modernist Movement
    • The Cuban Vanguardia
    • The Influence of Europe in Cuban Visual Arts
    • The Creolization of Cuban Culture
    • José Bedia
    • Angela Valella
    • Raúl Villarreal
    • Leandro Soto
    • De palo pa' rumba
    • Joaquín González
    • Rafael López Ramos
    • Laura Luna
    • Ana María Sarlat
  • Chapter Five. Seams of Continuity: The Landscape of the Dispossessed
    • Cuban Paisajismo
    • Raúl Villarreal
    • Baruj Salinas
    • Ana Flores
    • Nelson García Miranda
    • Ana Albertina Delgado
    • Rosario "Chary" Castro-Marín
  • Chapter Six. The Architecture of Longing and Remembrance
    • Natasha Perdomo
    • Anita Guerra
    • Dora Hernández
    • Armando Tejuca
    • Glexis Novoa
  • Chapter Seven. The Trope of Displacement, the Disruption of Space
    • Victor Caldée
    • Pedro Vizcaíno
    • Joaquín González
    • María Brito
    • Sergio García
    • Adriano Buergo
    • Israel León Viera
    • Yovani Bauta
    • Elizabeth Cerejido
    • Pedro Portal
    • Jorge Arango
    • Gloria Lorenzo
    • Roberto Wong
  • Chapter Eight. Discourses of Positionality
    • The Fertile Nature of Dispersion and Rerooting
    • Cultural Identity in Transition
    • The Fifteenth Province
  • Epilogue. Cuba, a Work in Progress
  • Appendix A: Artists Included in Café: The Journeys of Cuban Artists
  • Appendix B: "Café con leche," by Antonia "Toñi" Otaola Barco
  • Notes
  • List of Illustrations

Andrea O'Reilly Herrera is Professor of Literature and Director of Women's and Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. In addition to being a published poet and literary critic, she is the author of a number of critical works including ReMembering Cuba: Legacy of a Diaspora, the novel The Pearl of the Antilles, the edited collection of essays Cuba: Idea of a Nation Displaced, and the coedited textbook The Matrix Reader: Examining the Dynamics of Oppression and Privilege.


How many doors do you have to knock on before you find your own?

—Rabindranath Tagore


Nature (space) is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

—Blaise Pascal


Where is the middle of the world? Here and elsewhere.

—Old Irish Proverb


In some sense, all contemporary Cuban diasporic discourses and cultural expressions measure, consciously or unconsciously, against a central absence. That absence is the island. Certain strains of this discourse share with other diasporic articulations the tendency to idealize the past; make nativist claims to "authentic" cultural, racial or ethnic, and/or national identity; and express a utopian sense of patria, or homeland, as a fixed and unchanging physical place of origin. Adhering to the teleology of origin and return, another common feature they share is the impulse to describe the experience of displacement in terms of constructing a temporary "home away from home." Defined as such, the condition of diaspora or exile, as theorist Homi K. Bhabha observes, "falls in the shadow" of an "idea" of nationhood that is fundamentally static and territorially or temporally defined.


Though the lush tropical landscape and the intense, luminescent light continue to figure prominently in the Cuban cultural imagination and serve as unifying, iconic signifiers, the idea that this nation can be bounded or reduced to a single factor diminishes its historical and cultural complexity. It obscures, moreover, the idea that Cuba is preeminently a point of confluence and migration. Not unlike the other islands that collectively constitute the Caribbean, it has been in motion for centuries, both physically and culturally. Although critical attention tends to focus on the ongoing exodus that has followed in the wake of the 1959 revolution, a pattern of migration to and from the island can be traced back over centuries. As art critic and poet Ricardo Pau-Llosa observes, "exile—indeed displacement—has been a constant in the development of the Cuban imagination for . . . centuries." Any profound understanding of the themes of displacement and cultural transference, translation, or transformation in respect to the island and its various diasporas must, therefore, reject the idea of Cuba as a unified category of analysis. Rather, as Ella Shohat reminds us, we must begin with the premise that all nations "exist not as hermetically sealed entities but, rather, as part of a permeable interwoven relationality." In the same vein, any dialogue regarding Cuban diasporic cultural production must take into account the central role that social and political upheaval—and consequently physical movement and cultural exchange—has played in the island's development.




As an island—a geographical space with mutable and porous borders—Cuba has never been a fixed cultural, political, or geographical entity. In consequence of its strategic location, the island became a site of convergences, a place of migratory interactions, a circuit and receptacle for all manner of exchanges, some of which predate the first Spanish colonial interventions. As a result, Cuban culture is stratified and striated by multiple and varied influences. Many Cubans currently residing on the island express the notion that Communism has cut them off from the rest of the world, and "the unhappy circumstance of water at every turn" seals their enclosure. Yet the sea that circumscribes and ultimately defines Cuba suggests, nevertheless, perennial fluidity, constant movement, and cross-pollination.


Just as the island and its people have absorbed and been transformed by diverse presences and cultural elements, Cuba has also become a moveable nation, a traveling, prismatic site of rupture and continuity resulting from continuous out-migrations and scatterings. Rooted in both the indigenous and colonial pasts, the realities of migration and exile fundamentally inform and temper contemporary Cuban history and are the underlying conditions that inform the Cuban experience. Cuba's cultural continuity, in turn, has always depended on a process of absorption, translation, transformation, and synthesis that has occurred in this context of movement. Thus, when speaking of present-day Cubans, one is referring simultaneously to those who reside on the island as well as to a multilocal population that has spread across the globe and now includes three generations born outside Cuba following the 1959 revolution. The way to locate Cuba, therefore, is not simply by fixing one's gaze on the island, but also by knocking on others' doors. The challenge then is to speak of Cuba within a "kaleidoscopic framework" (to borrow Shohat's terminology) as a series of interlinked communities (both on and off the island) that are related to one another, yet whose positions are not identical.




This book, Cuban Artists Across the Diaspora: Setting the Tent Against the House, examines the significance of Cuba's history of movement and displacement through the perspective of its visual arts. In the process, it positions itself against the impulse to locate Cuba solely according to geographical coordinates, and rejects the correspondent essentialist discourses that propose a closed or static definition of nationhood or national and cultural affiliation. It tends instead toward a poetics of indeterminacy, precariousness, and paradox, at the same time that it acknowledges the significance of the situational and contextual, of place and locality.


Although my underlying aim is to formulate a more expansive and inclusive theoretical approach to the paradoxes of "migratory stability" and "stable mobility" inherent to the Cuban diasporic condition, I pursue this through an exploration of CAFÉ: The Journeys of Cuban Artists, a radically inclusive, itinerant, and evolving art exhibition curated by Cuban artist Leandro Soto. Unconventional in every respect, CAFÉ features alternating, multigenerational groups of Cuban diasporic artists conceived or born on or off the island. The participating Cafeteros work with a wide range of art media and techniques, and recent manifestations have included poetry and fiction readings, lectures and roundtable discussions, dance and performance art, and traditional and original music composed by both Cuban and North American artists.


The Cafeteros' work testifies to the idea that a long tradition of Cuban art continues to evolve, and is indeed flourishing off the island. All of the participating artists have been visibly influenced, in varying degrees, by the new physical and cultural contexts in which they are working. Fundamental to their artmaking, therefore, is the process of absorption, translation, transformation, and synthesis. Their work, however, simultaneously conserves a series of identifiable Cuban cultural elements—what Cuban theorist and writer Antonio Benítez-Rojo refers to as the "ancient dynamics" of the island's braided cultural roots and turbulent history—and reinscribes and sets them into motion in new contexts.




In my previous writing on the Cuban scattering, I have argued consistently for a more nuanced, malleable paradigm that moves away from essentialist, and territorially and linguistically based concepts of racial, national, or cultural identification. This study seeks to build upon and extend my previous work by developing a more creatively unstable theoretical approach—one that takes account of the fluid and shifting aspects of situated or contextual subjectivity, and challenges traditional concepts of spatiality, yet remains rooted in the local and the historical. More specifically, it interprets the art of the Cafeteros through an examination of the links that exist among the social and/or political, the spatial, the historical, and the temporal. It explores, moreover, the manner in which one reconstitutes, translates, and transforms the self in diaspora, and emphasizes the role these artists play in producing alternative cartographies as they re-create or reimagine space in response to a nonlinear modernity. The opening chapters thus situate the Cafeteros' art synchronically in Cuba's history of colonialism and neocolonialism, migration, and interculturation. Subsequent chapters, based on personal interviews with a select group of artists, link the Cafeteros' work diachronically by establishing the genealogy of a longer tradition of Cuban art dating back to the modernist, or vanguardia, movement. This latter portion of Cuban Artists Across the Diaspora demonstrates the continuity of the Cafeteros' work with that of previous generations of Cuban artists, as well as their internal links, yet it also emphasizes the particularities that distinguish them from past traditions and from one another. It also takes into account the manner in which they reroot in new contexts and absorb new cultural elements into their work.


The final chapter explores the subversive, creative potential that can arise when the diasporic artist confronts newness. It examines the entangled tension that results, in the process of rerooting, from multiple and sometimes conflicting attachments to culture and place.


In terms of specific methodology, this study concentrates on the slippage that occurs between the synchronic and the diachronic by weighing Cuba's sociopolitical history against what Antonio Benítez-Rojo describes as "the poly-rhythmic cultural repetitions," or constants, that have occurred outside the island. In The Repeating Island, Benítez-Rojo proposes a concept of repetition that is not mimetic in the Borgesian or Proustian sense (i.e., that events, memories, or experiences can be replicated across time), but, rather, allows for paradox and difference amid regularity. "I have emphasized the word," he writes,


because I want to give the term the almost paradoxical sense with which it appears in the discourse of Chaos, where every repetition is a practice that necessarily entails a difference and a step toward nothingness (according to the principle of entropy proposed by thermodynamics in the last century); however, in the midst of this irreversible change, Nature can produce a figure as complex, as highly organized, and as intense as the one that the human eye catches when it sees a quivering hummingbird drinking from a flower.


In Benítez-Rojo's view, these cultural constants somehow constitute a protean ensemble of identifiable elements passed down through generations both on and off the island. "Within this chaos of difference and repetitions, of combinations and permutations," he tells us, "there are regular dynamics that co-exist."


Nicolas Bourriaud seemingly expands on Benítez-Rojo's concept of repetition in a meditation on contemporary "postproduction" art (art that has neither an origin nor a metaphysical destination):


Repetition in time is called a rerun or réplique—a replica, a reply. And the term réplique, "aftershock," is also used to refer to the tremor(s) following a major earthquake. These aftershocks, more or less attenuated, distanced, and similar to the first, belong to the original, but they neither repeat it nor constitute entirely separate events. The art of postproduction is a product of this notion of réplique (replication, reply): the work of art is an event that constitutes the replication and reply to another work or a preexisting object; distant in time from the original to which it is linked, this work nonetheless belongs to the same chain of events. It is located on the precise wavelength of the original earthquake, putting us back in touch with the energy from which it sprang while at the same time diluting it in time, that is , ridding it of its character as an historical fetish.


Throughout this study, I consciously borrow Benítez-Rojo's and Bourriaud's concepts and terminology. Yet, in addition to echoing their concepts of repetition and réplique, my usage of the terms also draws upon the British Romantic concept of spiral return—in other words, the notion that during the course of travel or voyaging we are permanently altered, and thus can never return to a place of origin in the exact same psychological, emotional, or even physical state.


In interviewing the Cafeteros, I emulated Leandro Soto's unorthodox method of curating CAFÉ (see further discussion in Chapter 2). At the outset of each interview, I identified myself as a self-taught artist and characterized myself as a kind of partera, or midwife, a role I consciously strove to assume in my edited collection of testimonial expressions ReMembering Cuba: Legacy of a Diaspora (2001). I also established that I was approaching this project from a cultural studies perspective as opposed to adopting the approach of a historian, ethnographer, or art historian. Rather than presenting a predetermined set of questions, I allowed each artist to direct or lead our conversation, and encouraged them to ask questions about my own intentions regarding the project.


During the course of our conversations, I prompted the Cafeteros with questions that arose spontaneously in the context of the interviews. Occasionally, if the artists did not address the subject on their own, I posed a question regarding whether Cuba was present in their work. I also concluded every interview with two questions, characterizing the second as baroque: "Do you regard yourself as a Cuban artist, or an artist who happens to have been born in Cuba?" and "What question(s) should I have asked in order to understand your work more fully?"


I intentionally interviewed nearly all of the artists in their studios in order to actually see their work and get a sense of the spaces in which they create art. This, in turn, gave the artists the opportunity to choose the works that best illustrated the concepts they were exploring and, at the same time, act as auto-interpreters. During the course of these interviews, I articulated my reading or interpretation of their art to make certain that I was grasping what they were trying to communicate, thereby creating a space for dialogue and exchange. Whenever possible, I invited the artists' partners, friends, family members, and/or fellow Cafeteros to partake in the interviews and comment on our interpretations of the art.


It was only after I had completed all of the interviews and had time to meditate on the process during a sojourn in Lublin, Poland, as a Fulbright scholar that I began to discern the sometimes overt and sometimes hidden links among the Cafeteros' work, as well as their connections to past generations of Cuban artists. I also began to realize that the unconventional nature of the exhibit itself sheds light on fundamental questions regarding the diasporic condition, especially as it relates to nation, culture, spatiality, and historicity.


I specifically mention my experience in Poland for a number of reasons. Given Poland's troubled history, as well as its former status as a Soviet bloc nation, my Polish students, colleagues, and friends introduced me to new and more complex ways of thinking about the concept or "idea" of nationhood. Our conversations regarding the relationships among culture, history, and spatiality, and the manner in which individuals and groups self-affiliate, were particularly memorable.


Rather than attempting to impose some fictive unity or collective vision on the Cafeteros' narratives, I allowed the project to take on a life of its own and follow its natural course. This laissez-faire approach accounts for what some may perceive as internal imbalances or unevenness within the text, such as the idea that the biographical components in some interviews sometimes outweigh critical commentary, or the fact that several interviews are more succinct than others. Finally, once I had completed the entries on individual Cafeteros, I gave each artist the opportunity to revise or develop what I had written about her/his work. This included reviewing the quotes that I (or others) had translated. In this way, they all had the final say over my narrative about, or interpretation of, their work. A number of Cafeteros, several of whom had been interviewed many times, told me that they had never been granted such an opportunity.




Due in part to the multivalent positionings and perspectives of the Cafeteros, CAFÉ serves as an ideal metaphor by which to explore critical questions regarding the many and sometimes paradoxical ways diasporic subjects self-affiliate or situate themselves in the narratives of scattering and displacement. The range of responses their work has received from critics and curators both on and off the island reveals the vastly different ways they are perceived and identified or categorized.


Taking account of and validating these various and frequently conflicting positionalities while allowing them to coexist proved to be quite a feat. It required me to rethink identity designations in a more relational, as opposed to unified, manner in order to orchestrate these "contrapuntal" perspectives (to borrow Edward Said's term) within what proved to be a densely woven, kaleidoscopic narrative of displacement and dislocation. In considering the manner in which the Cafeteros self-identify or self-affiliate, I was confronted immediately with a myriad of discrepant historical and political accounts, and divergent articulations and renderings of the "real" and the "symbolic" island. These accounts reflected the artists' variegated ideological and social positions, as well as their diverse experiences and perspectives. More often than not, they pivoted on a range of questions regarding authenticity, including "Who is a real Cuban? Who is more Cuban? Who can create Cuban art? Can Cuban art only be created on the island? Does it cease to be Cuban if it is produced outside of Cuba?"


Consequently, a host of intersecting social determinations complicated individuals' experiences or memories of life on the island, for they were informed by the entangled relationships all diasporic Cubans have to the island. Churning in the mix were the experiences and expressions of Cubands, either born or raised off the island, who claimed to possess a Cuban consciousness shaped by their second-hand experience of exile. Though they are clearly aware of their unstable positioning in relation to other Cubans and their status in the diaspora, many experience what Marianne Hirsch refers to as "post-memory"—the historical traumatic effects of dispersion that persist in haunting them through generations, like phantom limbs, at both the unconscious and conscious levels. Many insist that they experience by association a profound and perpetual sense of cultural non-belonging, despite the fact that they were born or bred outside the island. They perceive themselves to be strangers in their own land, searching for a cultural "home." Such a position suggests that having a nomadic, exilic, diasporic, or migratory perspective does not necessarily imply spatial movement. The emphasis, then, is not so much on locating "home," but on the process of "voyaging" (to borrow Evelyn O'Callaghan's term) amid multiple identities and worlds: in other words, the journey is "home."


An additional, overarching challenge lay in addressing the paradoxical notion that historical and cultural continuity can coexist with movement, variation, and change—the idea that "difference always resides alongside continuity." As theorists James Clifford and Stuart Hall have argued persuasively, the realities of modern-day globalization, with its economic and technological exchanges and circulation of people, ultimately prevent us from maintaining stationary or exclusivist paradigms when analyzing contemporary diasporic transnational formations—or, in the case of this particular study, diasporic creative expressions. Globalization, Bourriaud adds, has in turn shattered our very notion of space. The discourses of diaspora must therefore be modified and adapted when speaking about the experiences of the displaced, the "unhomed," or desterrados. "What is at stake," Clifford points out, "is a comparative cultural studies approach to specific histories, tactics, everyday practices of dwelling and traveling: traveling-in-dwelling, dwelling-in-traveling."


An attendant difficulty lay in the need to smith vocabulary elastic enough to capture all of the possible modalities of placement and displacement, rootedness and movement, without losing meaning altogether. As suggested at the outset of this study, the Cuban diasporic experience has been structured rhetorically according to bicameral and binary concepts demarcating home and nation. In the process, the misleading dichotomy of island or diaspora, of the here/aquí or the there/allí, has been established as an oppositional strategy. The emphasis in much Cuban diasporic discourse, therefore, has been on territorial claims to both nationhood and culture.


Clearly, the term diaspora "offer[s] an alternative 'ground' to that of the territorial state," as Jonathan and Daniel Boyarin note, and the concept enables scholars (such as Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy) to move away from essentialist claims about culture, race, ethnicity, and nationhood. Nevertheless, as Brent Hayes Edwards points out, the term has been applied both liberally and loosely. Currently, he stresses, no word adequately takes stock of the divergent experiences and responses to scattering as well as the different circumstances that have prompted individuals or groups to leave their respective homelands. Edwards's claim would indeed hold true in respect to the Cuban case. The preeminent diaspora scholars William Safran and James Clifford, for example, fail to consider fully the significance or role of multigenerational transmissions of cultural memory, especially as they pertain to future generations. Neither do they allow for the possibility of sustaining multiple, transnational identifications, or take into account in any profound manner the generations claiming a vicarious cultural consciousness and memory.


The term exile has suffered in a similar manner. As Hamid Naficy points out, "The concept of exile, like . . . exilic subjects themselves, is a living, dynamic organism that lurks and thrives in the interstices of social and political formation." Nevertheless, Naficy continues, "not only political exile but also other types of exile are . . . being legally, socially, and politically reinterpreted and modified, by subject people themselves as well as by ruling national governments and international institutions."


Rather than attempting to mint or coin a new term or phrase in an effort to clarify my particular positioning, my inclination is to declutter with the aim of avoiding altogether the limitations that yet a new tag would impose on the experience of displacement. In this manner, I preempt an essentialist approach without endorsing a relativist or dogmatic universalist analysis. In addition, I skirt the possibility of obscuring once again the variations that occur within all scatterings, or leveling individual or group experiences. Rather, I apply a relational, multi-axis analysis in order to capture the movement of culture across borders. "A relational analysis," Ella Shohat tells us, "address[es] the operative terms and axis of stratification typical of specific contexts, along with the ways these terms and stratifications are translated and reinvoiced as they 'travel' from one context to another." Though I continue to employ terms such as diaspora, scattering, migration, exodus, and exile throughout this work, I do so with caution and consciousness regarding their nuanced meanings and histories.


In the same vein, any references to the Cafeteros or the post-1959 Cuban diasporic population in general assume that they—along with those who have remained on the island and experience what the Cuban poet José Lezama Lima terms insilio, or interior exile—possess multivalent consciousnesses and partake of many worlds, both past and present. Therefore, whenever possible I emphasize historical, physical, and politically situated subjectivity, and take into account the placement of individual Cafeteros within distinct phases or waves of the scattering. Finally, all references to the diasporic population are inclusive of the multiple, heterogeneous generations born or raised outside the island.


Throughout this project I have also avoided using the concept of identity as an analytical tool, especially as it relates to the constructivist, postmodern stance that treats identity as being in a constant state of flux with no stable points of reference or connection. I have also suppressed the impulse to treat identity as a concept that suggests some essence or core of allegedly foundational aspects of selfhood. As Rogers Brubaker and Frederick Cooper point out, identity has become a "hopelessly ambiguous" and frequently reductive and essentialist term. In their seminal work, they propose alternative, processual and active analytical idioms such as identification, self-understanding, and categorization—terms that are considerably less encumbered by conflicting meanings and resist reifying essentialist categories or definitions. Such terminology allows for fluidity and variability at the same time that it indicates locality and situated subjectivity.


I have also consciously steered away from the label "postmodern," and tend toward Nicolas Bourriaud's notion of the "altermodern." "Postmodernism," he writes,


resembles a mode of thought based on mourning, a long depressive episode of cultural life. . . . This melancholy posture constitutes the first period of postmodernism: it is characterized by an intensive citing of identifiable forms from the history of art as well as by the theme of the "simulacrum," in which image replaces reality in reality itself. . . . The second period of postmodernism, in which melancholy gives way to multiculturalism, is born at the end of the Cold War. . . . The modernist master narrative now gives way to that of globalization: by opening to cultures and artistic traditions other than those of the Western world, postcolonial postmodernism followed the path opened up by the world economy and ushered in a global reexamination of the conceptions of space and time that will remain its historical legacy.


Heralding a new century, Bourriaud calls for a concept that emerges from an era "defined by the prefix 'post-,'" which united "the most disparate domains of thought within the experience of a single, undifferentiated 'afterward.'" "It is this prefix, 'post-' that will ultimately turn out to have been the great myth of the end of the twentieth century," he claims. "It points to the nostalgia for a golden age at once admired and hated. It refers to a past event that supposedly cannot be surpassed . . . a mode of thought that is inherently reliant on, even captive to, the origin.


Bourriaud critiques the concept of multiculturalism in a similar fashion, arguing that the term connotes "a system for distributing meaning that assigns individuals to their social demands, reduces their being to their identity, and repatriates all meaning toward an origin regarded as political revealer." Rather, he opts for the prefix "alter-", which points toward the end of the "culture of the 'post-'" and is, on the contrary, associated with the notion of the "alternative" and of "multiplicity." "More precisely," Bourriaud writes, "['alter-'] designates a different relationship, with time no longer the aftermath of a historical moment, but the infinite extension of the kaleidoscopic play of temporal loops in the service of a vision of history as a spiral, which advances while turning back on itself." Altermodernity embodies a nonlinear modernity that ultimately releases us from what Bourriaud describes as "the tyranny of an illusion, that of Western progressive modernism."


Cuban Artists Across the Diaspora also intentionally moves away from definitions or theoretical paradigms that regard mobility and stability as mutually exclusive terms, or that privilege stasis over mobility. "The person who finds his homeland sweet," Hugh of Saint Victor tells us, "is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign place. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong person has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his." In emphasizing the positive aspects of movement and translocality, Hugh of Saint Victor defies a host of conventional assumptions regarding territoriality and nationhood. Rather than stressing loss or displacement and casting them in a negative light, he envisions the individual who belongs—at once—everywhere and nowhere as powerful and free.


Although some Cafeteros stress the destructive aspects of dislocation and rupture, for many movement functions as a mode of cultural survival as well as a potent form of resistance (see discussion in Chapter 8). It promises, moreover, accumulated knowledge, and often serves as a source of creative potential and fecund possibility. Inspired by Hugh of Saint Victor as well as these Cafeteros, this project examines the strategic advantages of multirootedness and translocality. At the same time, it strives to maintain an acute awareness of the potential "dangers of detachment"—what Edward Said characterizes as "disorienting loss" and the "crippling sorrow of estrangement"—as well as the reality that many Cuban migrants or émigrés cannot return to the island. It proposes an alternative or altered concept of nomadism that suggests a kind of "weightlessness" or detachment from physical spaces and at the same time promotes the idea of being rooted in multiple places.


Though nomadism is generally understood as "dispens[ing] altogether with the idea of a fixed home or center," it is traditionally defined as a state of being "without the hope or dream of a homeland." The aesthetic formula of nomadism that I propose recasts this definition. It is libratory, on the one hand, in its emphasis on movement and detachment, much like Hugh of Saint Victor's concept and akin to the Taoist notion of "impermanence" or "indifference to the world." Embedded in this aesthetic is a particular concept of weightlessness posited by Søren Frank and based on Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht's characterization of "globalization as a growing spacelessness" (that is, the gradual "elimination of the dimensions of space" as a consequence of the electronic age). Despite its insistence on itinerancy and transience, my approach to nomadism is also grounded in a concept of "doubleness" that involves rooting and rerooting, continuity, and as Frank puts it, the simultaneous elimination and recuperation of "space." It permits, moreover, a form of "rooted cosmopolitanism" (to borrow Kwame Anthony Appiah's term) that allows diasporic subjects to "transport their roots" and thereby remain connected to the homeland.


Nicolas Bourriaud perhaps best expresses this seemingly paradoxical possibility in his discussion of "radicant" art. In his critical work The Radicant, he describes a "zone of turbulence" in which "aesthetic canons upon which contemporary criticism is based are shattered." According to this vision, instability is valorized above the structure of "circumscribed territories" offered by various media (and other institutional sources, one might add)—a notion that ultimately perpetuates what Salman Rushdie describes as the "conservative myth designed to keep us in our places."


"The immigrant, the exile, the tourist, and the urban wanderer are the dominant figures of contemporary culture," Bourriaud writes:


[They] resemble those plants that do not depend on a single root for their growth but advance in all directions on whatever surfaces present themselves by attaching multiple hooks to them, as ivy does. Ivy belongs to the botanical family of the radicants, which develop their roots as they advance, unlike the radicals, whose development is determined by their being anchored in a particular soil. . . . They grow their secondary roots alongside their primary one. The radicant develops in accord with its host soil. It conforms to the latter's twists and turns and adapts to its surfaces and geological features. It translates itself in terms of the space in which it moves. With its at once dynamic and dialogical signification, the adjective "radicant" captures this contemporary subject, caught between the need for connection with its environment and the forces of uprooting, between globalization and singularity, between identity and opening to the other. It defines the subject as an object of negotiation.


The Cafeteros' art articulates a particular radicant aesthetic that relates directly to the conditions of dislocation and non-belonging fundamental to their experience. In its stress on displacement and the itinerant, their work cannot be defined or categorized solely in relation to Cuba or to past generations of Cuban artists, for it embodies the radicant tendency to reroot in the act of translating, negotiating, transforming, and synthesizing new cultural elements. At the same time, it retains its primary roots in its preservation of certain identifiable elements that remain anchored or located in specific historical, cultural, or local contexts.


Throughout his work, Bourriaud reminds us that translation is fundamentally "a practice of displacement." Giving a new spin on the idea of artistic appropriation and translation, which is often regarded in a negative light (as discussed in Chapter 4), he points out that the act of transfer "sets in motion" signs that were "strictly codified" and seemingly "fixed." It "presents the foreign in a familiar form," in what one may characterize as a search for points of connection or similarity, and seeks out patterns of repetition as opposed to sameness, mimicry, replication. Yet it simultaneously connotes newness in its spiral trajectory, for one can never fully recapture or recuperate the original. In other words, translation "inserts" the work of art "into a chain," thus "diluting its origin" (without eradicating it entirely) in "multiplicity" and "asserting the indeterminacy of any code, of rejecting any source code that would seek to assign a single origin to works and texts." Images and signs are thus never static or frozen, hermetically sealed, insulated, or circumscribed. In the act of destabilizing signs, the diasporic artist extends their meaning in an endless, nonlinear continuum.


Ultimately, the idea of being rooted but weightless—coupled with the notion that identify is contingent and relational at the same time that it is localized and positioned—-acts as a kind of anecdote for the sense of non-belonging expressed by so many Cubands, including those born or raised outside the island. This approach allows the psychically or physically displaced person to simultaneously maintain a sense of connection with the island but feel at home everywhere. In effect, it "transforms" the feeling of "non-belonging into double belonging," to borrow Frank's words, or "multi-belonging," as Lucy R. Lippard suggests. Such an approach expands on the idea that Cuban culture and all of its expressions are, and always have been, simultaneously portable and solidly grounded. Reflecting this aspect of the Cuban condition, Cuban Artists Across the Diaspora: Setting the Tent Against the House thus envisions the island and its culture as a moveable tent (as the subtitle suggests) as opposed to the concept of a stationary house or home. In this way, it strives to extinguish the urge to locate one's understanding of culture and nation in "one spot in the world."


Finally, general principles expressed in quantum physics have offered a form of intuitive logic that has given me new ways to think about nomadic diasporic identifications and cultural expressions, for certain threads of its particular discourse admit the possibility that multiple "realities," or states of being, can coexist. This theory relies on a concept of non-locality that is less concerned with determining the exact physical location or state of a particle or object at any given moment than with the probability of where it might or can be located in both physical and temporal terms.


As I have suggested, the diasporic condition operates on the quantum principles of translocality and positionality. Loosely akin to the concept of non-locality, the identifications that the Cafeteros assume and the conceptual spaces they inhabit are multiple. At the same time, as mentioned earlier, their understanding of self is always measured inadvertently against the "absent presence" that is the island. In this sense their art, represented in each manifestation of CAFÉ, simultaneously signifies and collapses the geographical distances between the "here" and the "there," and thereby presents an uncanny repetition of the island, which defies traditional cartographical conventions regarding spatiality.


Recent trends in quantum thought also posit the notion that "something that happens now is affected by something that happens in the future." As discussed in Chapters 2 and 3, this possibility bespeaks the sense of contemporaneity, or cross-temporality, implicit in the various presentations of CAFÉ, for each heralds the future at the same time that it invokes both the present and the cultural and historical past. These collective aspects of quantum thought—of an infinitely malleable idea of interstitial spatiality, contemporaneous existence and momentum, and the possibility that the present and the future not only interface but overlap—have allowed me to rethink and problematize what one critic terms Euro-Americans' "imaginary constructions of space, land, time, and history."




The rich and diverse cultural expressions of the Cafeteros operate at the juncture of seemingly antithetical social locations and perspectives, and thereby play simultaneously on difference and similarity. In this sense, they put into relief the complex nature of all cultural expressions and productions. When applied as a theoretical framework, an open-ended and fluid approach to diasporic art allows for a more malleable and improvisational discourse, which reinscribes at the same time that it translates and transforms. In this way, the Cafeteros circumvent any notion of a homogeneous or uniform "imagined community," or a fixed "idea" of nation or culture. In its celebration of movement, the Cafeteros' art is postnationalist and altermodern in that it extends beyond what Homi Bhabha refers to as the "paradigmatic colonial and post-colonial condition of being unhomed," for "home" in the context of diaspora is always, simultaneously, "here and elsewhere."


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