We are unable to display your institutional affiliation without JavaScript turned on.
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Find using OpenURL

José Martí: Images of Memory and Mourning by Emilio Bejel (review)

From: The Americas
Volume 70, Number 1, July 2013
pp. 107-108 | 10.1353/tam.2013.0060

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

For anyone interested in José Martí, and that implies a large body of readers and scholars, this is an intriguing book. Bejel sets as his purpose to offer a "critical reflection on and a critical analysis of the interaction among Martí's visual images, their history, and the mythical memory that has been built up around them" (p. 1), and succeeds in doing so. The Cuban national hero's iconic status and the range of images of Martí— from photographs taken during his lifetime to paintings, sketches, monuments, and film—make this a fertile field for scholarly attention. Bejel's book provides an astute and balanced analysis of the impact these images have had on the collective Cuban consciousness and describes the political drama and ideological battles lines that have surrounded many of the images. He organizes his study by means of a "retrospective reconstruction," the way in which memory defines and explains the past, and shows how the interested observer gazing at one of the Martí images responds with a set of "identifications, needs, desires, and circumstances that give specific meaning to the national icon"(p. 5). Bejel further specifies that his focus is on the corporal Martí whose body symbolically represents the body of the nation and Cubanness itself.

Of necessity, the book confronts the questions of the social and political positioning of Martí. But rather than engage in what is an endless politically based debate, Bejel works from the premise that "the history that interposes itself between the visual image and the observer's present is never neutral" (p. 6). With a solid grounding in the theories about memory and reconstruction established by Barthes, Noble, Hall, Anderson, and others, Bejel tackles the ways in which Martí images may affect one guided by the national narrative in Cuba, and he challenges hegemonic structures that have been built around the images. He also reminds us that images mixed with text produce a response encompassing both visual and language cues. This book underscores the dynamic of Martí's image as apostle and martyr, thus the "images of memory and mourning" in the title. Finally, Bejel connects the retrospective reconstruction approach as applied to iconography and the nation state with Latin American cultural studies and the ways in which visual images of Martí can be linked to centers of power.

Chapter 1 describes the prevalence of the daguerreotype and photographs in Martí's era and explores the Cuban patriot's thoughts on photography as a part of modernization. It also points to Martí's awareness, especially after 1891, of the importance of his own image. Essentially, Martí sought to portray himself in humble settings. The notes accompanying the photos of Martí in this chapter are informative to a degree not usually found in captions. Chapter 2 looks at famous Martí statues, memorials, and monuments from 1902 forward, highlighting the controversies and the forces of officialdom behind their creation and the sense of mourning they are intended to evoke. The Havana Central Park statue of 1905, the 1951 mausoleum of Santiago, the 1958 monument in Havana's Civic Plaza which became Revolution Plaza in1959, and the statue of Martí on horseback in New York's Central Park are featured. Chapter 3 relates the story in the 2010 Cuban film José Martí: The Eye of the Canary to photographic images of Martí as a young boy and the emotional interplay between them. Chapter 4 argues that the constant visual representation of Martí is a way in which Cubans express their mourning for a martyred hero, what Bejel calls a "melancholia" for Martí. References to the ubiquitous busts of Martí appear in this chapter as do descriptions of the visual images of his death, a discussion of the compulsive iconolatry, and the treatment of Martí's image in Cuba in the Special Period. Brief "Afterthoughts" reprise the author's aims in writing the text.

This book includes thorough notes, a bibliography, and an index. Some readers may find the work somewhat repetitive and historians may chafe at some of the literary verbiage, especially in chapter 3. Martí devotees, however, will discover much to consider and to appreciate. The acknowledgement of valuable assistance given by...

You must be logged in through an institution that subscribes to this journal or book to access the full text.


Shibboleth authentication is only available to registered institutions.

Project MUSE

For subscribing associations only.