Late last month, art historian Aldeide Delgado launched the website Catálogo de Fotógrafas Cubanas (Catalogue of Cuban Women Photographers), a reference and resource—currently in Spanish only—for researchers, collectors, and others interested in Cuban women photographers and related topics. Cuban Art News spoke with her about the project and its future development.
Tell us about the Catálogo de Fotógrafas Cubanas website. How would you describe it to someone who isn’t familiar with it?
Catálogo de Fotógrafas Cubanas (Catalogue of Cuban Women Photographers) brings together, for the first time in a historiographic and critical context, Cuban women photographers from the 19th century to the present. It’s a response to a historical, patriarchal paradigm that marginalizes the creation of diverse subjects, so it focuses on the plurality of feminine, trans, queer, and other non-binary voices as a way of rewriting the canon of photography and promoting social change.
Catálogo de Fotógrafas Cubanas is an interactive platform that offers valuable information for artists, curators, critics and other cultural workers, through a dynamic database of photographers, publications, exhibitions, and competitions. Another key element is highlighting the contributions of women artists in contemporary art, through talks, exhibitions, editorial projects, and partnerships with universities, museums, and other organizations.
How long have you been working on the website?
Just a year. Creating the website has been a somewhat difficult process. Twice, we were forced to start from scratch after lengthy conversations with design and programming teams. We had a very clear idea of the concepts and image that we wanted to convey: an interactive, dynamic, well-considered, and academic site. Our references were not only photography sites, but top-level institutions. The designers didn’t understand these parameters, and that generated economic losses and delayed the website’s debut.
The idea of making a catalogue of Cuban women photographers first emerged in 2013, when writings about them were almost nonexistent. At that time I was planning to create a printed catalogue that—as the name indicates—would record, in texts and images, those women who had contributed to the development of Cuban photography, as well as the political, social, and ideological conditions that influenced their participation and the fundamental themes explored in their work.
This idea hasn’t gone away—in fact, quite the opposite. For me, the website is a demonstration of the potential of that research. In a way, it refutes those who have expressed opposition to the project, under the rationale of there not being enough artists or significant works, or that it’s simply a trendy topic.
After working on this project for five years and not finding an organization with the interest and/or financial resources to publish this catalogue, I decided to do something that I think is better—to create the website and assume responsibility for self-publishing it.
Are there others on the website team? Or is it your project entirely?
Catálogo de Fotógrafas Cubanas is a project de mi autoría, and in that sense I’ve been at the helm so far. However, I’ve had the help of several collaborators at different times, from editing and translating texts to editing images and configuring the elements of the site. In the end, the website was created by the artist Francisco Masó.
How were the photographers selected? Are you planning to add more? Is there a procedure for suggesting new candidates for inclusion?
The biographical profiles in the Catálogo are regularly updated. We consider the artists who are born and develop their work in Cuba, Cuban artists who are temporarily or permanently living abroad, and artists who, despite not being born in Cuba, have consistently developed a considerable part of their work there.
In addition, we include women artists who use a range of media, such as performance, installation, video, and photography. In those instances, we restrict our coverage to their work as photographers.
We have no restrictions in terms of the number. In considering an artist for the catalogue, we look at the creative proposal and the singularity of the visual language, as well as the development of projects that question the conventions of photography and gender. On the other hand, we encourage the collaboration of critics, academics, and other cultural workers through articles, interviews, essays, etc.
If you’d like to recommend an artist, or have an idea about how to improve or support the project, you can reach us at email@example.com.
Early last year, we published an article that you wrote about Cuban women photographers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Do you have plans to add some of those photographers to the website?
The website has several texts about Cuban women photographers of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century—for example, La mujer como hacedora del lente. Aproximación a los estudios fotográficos de La Habana de finales del siglo XIX or Fotógrafas en la República: Sección Femenina en el Club Fotográfico de Cuba.
Apart from these references, the information about 19th-century photographers and those of the first half of the 20th century will be part of the book, Catálogo de Fotógrafas Cubanas. The biographical profiles on the website are mainly focused on artists who have worked since the late 1960s up to the present.
What features of the website make it particularly useful for people looking to collect Cuban photography and photo-based art?
I think that a fundamental element for female photographers is not only the recognition that a platform such as Catálogo de Fotógrafas Cubanas can provide, but the economic stability that makes it possible to continue creating. As Virginia Woolf said: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write.”
The Catálogo makes it possible to find the photographic production of Cuban women artists all in one place, and to consider other themes that transcend the historical canon of Cuban photography.
In addition, the wealth of images on the site can be enough to stimulate more than one collector around this topic.
What makes the website useful to scholars and students?
In addition to the Archivos section—where you can find the artists’ profiles, with their biographies, statements, and a selection of 15 images each—the Catálogo, as its first move, rescued a wide number of texts considering the relationships between gender and art, feminism and art, and photography and gender, as well as monographic studies of various women photographers. This is a direction we will continue to pursue.
Gradually, we will see the digitizing of primary sources, catalogues, and other archival materials that are of undoubted value for academics, and for the general public interested in photography from the perspective of gender.
For example, we republished a valuable 2007 text by José Antonio Navarrete that was the prologue to the pioneering research Desde el cuerpo: alegorías de lo femenino by Carmen Hernández. In his text, Navarrete introduces us to the analysis of different feminisms, to the differences between feminine art and feminist art, and the importance of the body as a site of creative struggle by female artists. Despite being more than a decade old, the validity of this text is unquestionable, especially in a context in which exhibitions such as Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985—which recently opened at the Pinacoteca de Sao Paulo—reposition this discussion in Latin America.
How has the website been funded?
So far, the website has been self-financed. Despite being a significant, pioneering project, to date no institution, organization or person has come forward to support its production—even organizations outside Cuba that promote Cuban art. For those of us who venture into independent management, obtaining resources is a complicated matter. We’re open to sponsorships, donations, associations, partnerships, or other ways of financing our research and art programs.
Do you plan to translate the website into English?
Yes, for sure. It’s the way to reach a wider public. This is one of the main objectives we hope to achieve with financial support.
If it develops as you’d like it to,, what will Catálogo de Fotógrafas Cubanas look like in five years?
Definitively, an institution dedicated to the research and advancement of photography, based on different artistic, educational, and social programs.
Any closing thoughts?
Presence and absence are two words that define the place of women in Western culture: visible as objects of men’s desire, but invisible as creative subjects. Many women theoreticians recognize this, in their efforts to “recuperar la visión,” or regain vision—to shift the axis of attention from mere images of women to their role as active subjects, as The creators of what is being represented.
The first task is to search through the historical archives and show women’s contributions. In the history of Cuban photography this is a pending issue, which Catálogo de Fotógrafas Cubanas was created to address.