Wednesday May 23, 2018

Bookshelf: Music, Humor, Photography, and a Bounty of Lam

A round-up of recent releases for reading, browsing, and gift-giving

Wifredo Lam, À la fin de la nuit, 1969
Courtesy McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College

From an insightful guide to cutting-edge art in Havana to a century of female vocalists—and the latest on Wifredo Lam—here are our picks for a season of art, music, literature, and more. Unless stated otherwise, publications are in English.

The celebrated artist Wifredo Lam (1902–1982) was born in Cuba to parents of Chinese, African, and Spanish descent—a multicultural background that is reflected in his work. Although primarily a painter, he also created prints, drawings, sculpture, and ceramics. During the 1920s and ’30s, Lam lived and worked in Madrid, Paris, and Marseille, where he encountered some of the great artists and literary figures of the 20th century. Two recent exhibitions of Lam’s work have inspired new publications focusing on different aspects of his extensive output.

Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds. Elizabeth Goizueta, ed. (McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College). This volume accompanied the 2014 exhibition of Lam’s work at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College, curated by Elizabeth Goizueta, which featured paintings from all of Lam’s major periods. The catalogue includes essays by Claude Cernuschi, Roberto Cobas Amate, Elizabeth T. Goizueta, Roberto Goizueta, and Lowery Stokes Sims.

Wifredo Lam - Exhibition Catalogue. Catherine David, ed. (Centre Georges Pompidou Service Commercial, 2015). The Lam retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris opened in September and runs until February 15, 2016. Curated by Catherine David, the exhibition presents more than 300 works, including many from the artist’s Spanish period: paintings, drawings, engravings, ceramics, plus photographs and original documents. In French.

Wifredo Lam et l’éternel féminin. By Peggy Bonnet Vergara. (L’Harmattan, 2015). Art historian Peggy Bonnet Vergara explores the role of the woman in Lam’s work: “an omnipresent and omnipotent creature whose multiple and often simultaneous visages reflect the feminine principle in its diversity, its complexity, and its ambiguity.” In French. 

Cutting Edge Art in Havana: 100 Cuban Artists. By Mayret Gonzalez-Martinez and Yoanna Toledo-Leyva. (ATLA Group, Ltd, 2015). This portable reference guide profiles more than one hundred Cuban contemporary artists working in Havana today. The selections range from established names appearing in major international collections to emerging artists just beginning their careers. Complete with artists' biographical, professional, and contact information, and illustrated with works selected by the artists themselves, the guide cross-references its information with detailed maps to the artists' workshops and studios, as well as Havana's museums and cultural centers, alternative and independent exhibition spaces. There are even suggestions for the best spots for a meal or a drink.

Cuba: Black and White. By Anna Mia Davidson. (Steidl, 2015). In 1999, at age 25, Anna Mia Davidson went to Cuba for the first time, on a personal journey to capture the isolated island nation in photographs. Cuba was just beginning to recover from the "Special Period," the economic crisis that followed the 1989 collapse of Soviet economic support. On additional trips over the next eight years, Davidson portrayed daily life in the cities, villages, and countryside. Her black-and-white photographs are a testimony to the resilience of the Cuban people, who stood their ground during this transitional period with ingenuity and spirit. It was also here that Davidson came into contact with traditional forms of sustainable farming, a promising area of agricultural development and an abiding passion of Davidson’s over the years.

 Letters to Yeyito: Lessons from A Life in Jazz. By Paquito D'Rivera, translated by Rosario Moreno. (Restless Books, 2015). Fourteen-time Grammy winner, clarinetist, and saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera (b. 1948) offers a fascinating tour of his six-decade-long career, in a memoir that takes the form of letters to an aspiring musician. D’Rivera recalls his early years in Havana, where he became a soloist with the Cuban National Symphony by the age of 17. After coming to the U.S. in 1981, his expanding career led to collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie, Yo-Yo Ma, and other celebrated musicians. The only artist to have won Grammys in both Classical and Latin Jazz categories, D’Rivera has issued 30 solo albums.

 Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music. By Alexandra T. Vazquez. (Duke University Press, 2013). The author, an Assistant Professor of African American Studies and English at Princeton University, offers a richly illustrated and “impassioned take on the intellectual and sensory bounty of Cuban music.” Her aim is to open up the experiences of the music by exploring a range of expression, including Alfredo Rodríguez's album Cuba Linda (1996); the 70-year career of the vocalist Graciela Pérez; the signature grunt of "Mambo King" Dámaso Pérez Prado; Cuban music documentaries of the 1960s; and late-20th-century concert ephemera.

Cuba, en voz y canto de mujer. By Mayra A. Martínez. (Eriginal Books LLC, 2015). Cuba has produced artists of great quality and diversity, and this book features a panorama of Cuban female singers who have presented the best of their art to the world. The author surveys early cancioneras and boleristas; reviews the careers of four internationally acclaimed singers, Celia Cruz, La Lupe, Olga Guillot, and Omara Portuondo; and traces the lineage of Cuban stars from the great Rita Montaner to the present. The book also includes interviews with 17 singers and composers of various generations. In Spanish.

 Planet/Cuba: Art, Culture, and the Future of the Island. By Rachel Price. (Verso, 2015). Cuba has changed significantly in recent years, from seemingly minor adjustments (such as the introduction of cell phones) to large-scale economic revisions. Planet/Cuba examines how art and literature have responded to a new moment that, from Price’s perspective, is more concerned with local quotidian worries than international alliances, and more threatened by the devastations of planetary capitalism and climate change than by the vagaries of the nation’s government.

 An Address in Havana/Domicilio habanero: Selected Short Stories. By Maria Elena Llana; illustrations by Amelia Peláez. (Cubanabooks, 2014). “Solitary characters, afflicted by real or fictitious fears… a world plagued with absurdities… exceptional stories, told through a subjectively ironic perspective with both humor and an evenhanded cruelty.” The short stories of Maria Elena Llana (b. 1936, Cienfuegos) “contain a rich and thoroughly entertaining representation of a particular social class in Cuba during the last 40 years: the bourgeoisie who struggled to maintain their social status and participated only by default in the construction of the new socialist society.” Llana has worked as a journalist specializing in cultural reporting and Asia, but her short stories unmistakably reflect aspects of Havana. Bilingual Spanish/English edition.

 The publisher of Llana’s volume, Cubanabooks, was launched in 2010 by Dr. Sara E. Cooper, a professor of Spanish and multicultural and gender studies at Chico State University in California. Frustrated by the difficulties of obtaining works by Cuban women writers, Cooper decided to set up her own imprint to issue translations of books by Cuban women. “I was incredibly naïve and I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” she says. By 2015, however, Cubanabooks has translated and published works by ten authors.

 Humor Cubano: Digale adiós a las penas. By Rafael M. Barreto. (Amazon Digital Services, 2015). This short volume (50 pages) is a compilation of jokes and humorous stories collected during a life that reflects something of the history of Cuba in the past 55 years. In Spanish.