Friday March 23, 2018

Bookshelf: Cuban Art, Photography, History, and More

More recent publications spotlighting Cuban arts and culture.

La Belle Créole: The Cuban Countess Who Captivated Havana, Madrid, and ParisBy Alina García-Lapuerta (Chicago Review Press). Mercedes Santa Cruz y Montalvo (1789–1852) was a Cuban-born aristocrat, noted for her beauty and talents. As a teenager, she left her native Havana for Madrid. Upon marriage to a French general, Christophe-Antoine Merlin, la contesse Merlin—la Belle Creole—became the toast of Parisian society, befriending aristocrats and artists alike. She hosted a musical salon and was acclaimed as one of the greatest amateur sopranos of her day. She also achieved fame as a writer, and is acknowledged as Cuba’s earliest female author. Her memoirs and travel writings introduced European audiences to 19th-century Cuban society and contributed to the debate over slavery. Along with personal correspondence, her writings form the basis of this first English-language account of her adventurous life. La Belle Créole is the result of seven years research by the author, whose life is as varied and international as that of her subject: Alina García-Lapuerta  was born in Cuba, educated in the U.S., and now lives in London with her Spanish-American husband and children. Here's an interview with the author:

Alexandre Arrechea: El espacio inevitable | The Inevitable SpaceEdited by Cristina Vives (Turner, Madrid). Available in late December, this volume of essays and an interview with the artist, conducted by Hans-Michael Herzog, documents and analyzes the trajectory of Arrechea’s career. Born in Trinidad, Cuba, in 1970, Alexandre Arrechea emerged as part of a socially utopian generation in Cuba, often working collaboratively with other artists (including his colleagues in the group Los Carpinteros). Working in drawing, engraving, sculpture, installation, and video, Arrechea has developed over the past 20 years into an internationally known artist with bases in Havana, Madrid, and New York. His recent large-scale public art projects, including Black Sun (Times Square, New York, 2010) and No Limit (Park Avenue, New York, 2013), have brought him further acclaim. In this book, he reflects on his growth as an artist and the professional and personal relationships that have informed his work.

Arte mágico en Cuba / Magic Art in Cuba. By Gérald Mouial (Editorial Arte Cubano). Algerian collector, writer, and photographer Gérald Mouial spotlights 51 Cuban painters of popular, naif, spontaneous, outsider art—works that display a magical conception of the universe, blending religiosity, art, and tradition. First published in 2004, the book was featured as part of a tribute to Mouial at the 2014 Festival de Arte Naif, which took place November 1-29 at the Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales (CDAV) in Havana.

The Light In Cuban EyesLake Forest College's Madeleine P. Plonsker Collection of Contemporary Cuban Photographywith Introductory Essays by Nelson Ramirez de Arellano Conde, Director, Fototeca de Cuba, and by Madeleine P. Plonsker, Collector (Lake Forest College Press, March 2015). This bilingual volume highlights the work of 50 photographers, both emerging and established, who have been active in Cuba from the Special Period to the present, 1992–2012. The photos in the book are accompanied by artists’ statements, collector’s comments, and essays by scholars. Collector Madeleine P. Plonsker observes that “Cuban photography has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past twenty years. Cuba's contemporary photographers are poised to reach a broader international audience, and the intent of my book is to bring you their story.”  The book will be launched in the spring with an exhibition at the Robert Mann Gallery in New York.

La seducción de la mirada. Fotografía del cuerpo en Cuba (1840–2013) / The Seduction of the Gaze: Photography of the Body in Cuba (1840–2013). By Rafael Acosta de Arriba (Editiorial Polymita, 2014). A deluxe edition (in Spanish only) that includes 400 photos by 90 artists, the book was presented earlier this month at Havana’s Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. The author, who recently received the National Prize for Cultural Research, reviews how Western thinkers and artists treated the concept of the body, which received a shock with the introduction of photography in the mid-19th century. He then traces the development of photography in Cuba and its preference for the theme of the body, from the 19th century through the 1980s up to the present day.

Identidad y Diaspora: El teatro de Pedro R. Monge Rafuls. Edited by Elena M. Martínez and Francisco Soto (Aduana Vieja, Valencia). Dramatist and Latino theater impresario Pedro R. Monge Rafuls was born in Cuba in 1943 and left in 1961 at age 18. Eventually settling in New York, where he founded the Ollantay art center, he is today considered one of the great promoters of Latino theater. This comprehensive volume (available in Spanish only) includes numerous literary essays, reviews, testimonials, and notes on the theater of Monge Rafuls, an extensive bibliography, and an interview with the dramatist. These collected writings offer insights and interpretations of Monge Rafuls’ work, focusing on issues such as the representation of gender and sexuality, the diversity of the Latin American diaspora in New York, the diversity of Afro-Cuban roots, and the search for identity in the exile Cuban community.

Community and Culture in Post-Soviet Cuba. By Guillermina De Ferrari (Routledge). A scholarly work that “demonstrates that masculine sociality is the key to understanding the longevity of Cuba’s socialist regime; it examines the sociology of cultural administration of intellectual labor in Cuba; and it maps the emergent ethical and aesthetic paradigms that allow Cuban intellectuals to envision alternative forms of community and civil society.” The book is organized in six sections: Socialism and Sociability; The Friendship Plot; Ethics After Dark; A Poetics of Evil; Ethics is the New Aesthetics; A Curated Culture. Professor De Ferrari offers close critical readings of a representative set of contemporary Cuban novels and works of visual art, by such artists as Jesús Díaz, Leonardo Padura, Abel Prieto, Ena Lucía Portela, Abilio Estévez, Antonio José Ponte, Wendy Guerra, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Guillermo Rosales, Abigail González, Rene Peña, Fernando Pérez, José Manuel Fors.

Nadine Covert is a specialist in visual arts media with a focus on documentaries. She was for many years the Executive Director of the Educational Film Library Association (EFLA) and Director of its American Film Festival, then the major documentary competition in the U.S. She later became director of the Program for Art on Film, a joint venture of the J. Paul Getty Trust and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Covert has served on the board of the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, and is currently a consultant to the Montreal International Festival of Films on Art (FIFA).