- Grupo Antillano: The Art of Afro-Cuba/El arte de Afro-Cuba by Alejandro Fuente and Julia Romero
This book initiates a revisionist art history to offer the Afro-Cuban art collective Grupo Antillano a more prominent place within the Cuban art canon. Guillermina Ramos Cruz, Grupo Antillano's de facto art historian, describes their mission: "We approach the theme of the presence of blacks in Cuban art as a postcolonial metanarrative in which 'the other' lays claim to the possibility of organizing history based on his own categories and from a self-reverential ontology" (19). The book charts the group's efforts to develop a critical Black Antillean discourse, a voice historically suppressed by the institutions of slavery and its enduring legacy of racial oppression. A hybrid monograph and exhibition catalog, the beautifully illustrated book admirably recuperates Grupo Antillano's critical project in postrevolutionary Cuban art. However, the book neglects to critique either [End Page 192] instances of chauvinism and racial essentialism or the pronounced underrepresentation of women within in the collective.
Grupo Antillano was founded in 1978 by visual artist Rafael Queneditt Morales, who held regular meetings and discussions in his home with Cuban artists and intellectuals. The group organized frequent art exhibitions. Although its first exhibit coincided with the well-historicized first exhibit of the Cuban art collective Volumen Uno, Grupo Antillano has remained overlooked in the critical literature about new Cuban art. De la Fuente and Romero's edited volume provides a rich matrix of historical documents, visual culture, and high-quality reproductions of art to correct this unexplained historiographic omission. The first three essays, called "testimonies," offer writings from some of the early members of the group. Four critical essays follow with a chronology of the group's exhibition record. Nineteen artists associated with the group have short biographical and critical excerpts that accompany thumbnails and full-color plate reproductions of their artworks. These insightful, sometimes congratulatory accounts honor the group without being overly technical. Newspaper clippings, historical photos, and collected writings offer historical data for future analysis. Finally, the catalog concludes with entries on twelve contemporary artists who pay tribute to the original Grupo Antillano.
This catalog aims to fill the lacuna in Cuban art history concerning Grupo Antillano's contributions to postrevolutionary art. Three of the four critical essays directly address the group's historical erasure. Guillermina Ramos Cruz, an art critic sometimes credited with membership in the group, writes a compelling overview of its history and genesis. She begins with the history of Afro-Cuban and Black Antillean culture, with its roots in the forced enslavement of West African people. Ramos Cruz recounts the sporadic history of Black representation in Cuban visual art, beginning in the colonial era and proceeding to more recent depictions. She discusses the impact of the Negritude movement, though surprisingly does not explicitly reference Afro-Cubanism of the 1930s. Her narrative concludes with overviews of significant Grupo Antillano figures from the twentieth century; each of the eight artists she discusses is male.
In the critical essay that follows, art historian Judith Bettelheim asks, "Why was Grupo Antillano essentially written out of Cuban art history?" (35) Bettelheim considers several explanations, including the potential prejudice against the group's heavy emphasis on Afro-Cuban religion, its formalism—which some may have seen as regressive in the context of the late 1970s—and potentially political resistance to a current of Black separatism within the group (39).
In the most substantial and theoretically rigorous of the book's essays, editor Alejandro de la Fuente offers a social art history of Grupo Antillano. He begins with a discussion of cimarronaje, the word that describes [End Page 193] wild, untamed animals and was used pejoratively throughout the Caribbean to describe enslaved Black people who escaped their captors. He explores the cimarronaje as a figure of Black resistance and ingenuity. De la Fuente carefully contextualizes the newly revolutionized communist Cuba, in which artist collectives formally registered...