- Grupo Antillano: The Art of Afro-Cuba by Alejandro de la Fuente
The ideological effects of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 impacted the national creative scene through exploration of the influence of African cultures on the formation of a Cuban identity. In regard to regional trends of Afro-Antillean connections, Cuban Revolutionary intellectuals and artists set out, in the words of Eugenio Hernández Espinosa, to explore “the presence of traditions of African origins in literature and the arts, devoid of exoticism and popular pseudo-culture” (p. 15). Hernández Espinosa, a playwright, was among the founding members of Grupo Antillano—a group of Cuban artists, writers, and other intellectuals who explored the African components of Cuban Antillean (Caribbean) culture. Although Grupo Antillano, founded in 1978, had a [End Page 770] short existence (until 1983), it was a notable force that promoted the careers of Cuban painters and other plastic artists, some of them with international exposure.
De la Fuente traces the careers of Cuban artists (painters, sculptors, and graphic artists) through reproductions in black and white, and many in color, of representative works. These artists had different styles and used different motifs; however, they were linked by their explorations of aspects of Afro-Cuban culture, particularly in the reproduction of religious items. The text is bilingual, and all the articles (from one to 24 pages long) seem to have been commissioned for this book. Newspaper clippings were widely used, along with examples of gallery exhibit brochures, making this book attractive reading and a useful source of information about Grupo Antillano’s myriad cultural events, most of them in Havana.
The book is divided into six sections that offer a multidisciplinary approach to this pluralistic, creative group. Section one, “Testimonies/Testimonios,” documents the importance of Grupo Antillano at the time of its founding and its lasting effects, through today. Among the most important testimonials is that of Rafael Queneditt Morales, who as a founding member offers a critical account of Grupo Antillano’s methodology while delving into “the deep roots that shaped us and which had been the source of exclusion and discrimination” (p. 2). Queneditt Morales stresses that the process of authentication of Afro-Cuban culture included re-examination of key texts by reputable intellectuals such as the anthropologist Fernando Ortiz. Among the scholars involved with Grupo Antillano’s earliest organizational meetings were Rogelio Martínez Furé, Eugenio Hernández Espinosa, and Sergio Vitier.
A more critical approach to the subject of Afro-Cuban culture is the subject of section two, “Essays/Ensayos.” Guillermina Ramos presents Grupo Antillano activities as part of an avant-garde movement that sought to trace the historical continuum initiated in the sixteenth century with slavery practices. This type of research uncovered a rich source of “postcolonial metanarrative,” story lines that eventually became subjects of Grupo Antillano’s artists. Judith Bettelheim addresses the issue that, in spite of Grupo Antillano’s fairly large scope of projects, “racial prejudice [may] account for erasure of Grupo Antillano from art history texts” (p. 40). Although this was a thorny issue, particularly within a revolutionary ideology that sought racial equality for all Cubans, Bettelheim’s analysis of two of Grupo Antillano’s artists, Ramón Haití and Rafael Queneditt, discusses that their emphasis on the “craft” and their “return to formal devices” might have been seen as too traditional by up-and-coming revolutionary artists. A final article closes this section with a critical look at slavery practices, particularly at the influence of runaway slaves (cimarrones) on the Grupo’s artists.
The last sections, “Exhibits/Exposiciones, 1978–1983” and “Tribute Exhibition/Exposición Homenaje,” gather multiple facsimiles of documents that trace the foundation of Grupo Antillano, including the original statement of purpose, written as political and aesthetic manifestos. As in other sections, representative examples of paintings and of sculptures illustrate diversity of subjects and styles among the artists. The newspaper [End Page 771] clippings provide proof of the types of critical examination that these exhibits exerted upon Cuban critical circles...