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5 Visions of a Nineteenth-Century Cuba Images of Blacks in the Work of Víctor Patricio de Landaluze Elizabeth Morán The nineteenth century was significant for the political and economic development of Cuba’s African and African-descended population. After Haiti’s struggle for independence from Spain ended successfully in 1804, sugar production boomed in the other Spanish colonies nearby, and Cuba had emerged as the largest producer of sugar by the middle of the century. But the sugar economy was also a slave economy, and plantation owners brought in more and more slaves to meet the demand for labor.As a result,early in the century,the majority of the population living on the island was African or of African descent.Spanish authorities responded by passing laws that encouraged Europeans to emigrate to the island. Although these laws did increase the proportion of nonblacks in Cuba by the middle of the century, the African and Afro-Cuban population had an enormous presence within (and outside) the city of Havana. They were politically active and very involved in planning and executing Cuba’s three wars against Spain (which took place over the period 1868 to 1898) as the island fought for its sovereignty. They also worked to end slavery in Cuba. In addition to their political contributions, blacks increased their economic power in the nineteenth century . Many purchased their freedom and established themselves as merchants, artisans, and other craftsmen. Amid all this conflict and change, members of the white Cuban bourgeoisie fought to maintain what they perceived of as their “place.” Artists working on the island during this time produced work that reflected the desires of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie—idealized and romanticized views that reflected none of the conflicts of the growing Cuban nation. It is ironic that one of the most popular artists during that time, Víctor Patricio de Landaluze, painted scenes that depicted the activities of the African and African-derived associations that had been growing in numbers and strength  Visions of a Nineteenth-Century Cuba: Víctor Patricio de Landaluze  115 since the seventeenth century.Landaluze’s works are significant because they are often referred to as the source and inspiration for later artists of the twentieth century who worked to define blackness in Cuba and identify the importance of the African presence in Cuban culture. Yet at the time Landaluze’s works were produced, his patrons and others interpreted them as satires and parodies of an inferior race. This chapter will explore how Landaluze depicted blacks to meet the needs of the white bourgeoisie and will examine how fear of a growing, economically vital and politically significant black population was“erased” through his work. Frequent subjects for Landaluze were the performances and individual members of the cabildo de la naciones—confraternities of similar African groups. Cabildo members forged cultural links that continued and altered African traditions , and many cabildo members were also members of the Cuban-founded but African-derived Abakuá Secret Society, which dates back to the colonial period. Initially an exclusively African and Afro-Cuban male association, the Abakuá Secret Society is still active in Cuba today. In discussing cabildo performances and festival theory, art historian David H. Brown notes that the symbols of authority used by members and performers (whether they derived from Africa or were borrowed from Europe) were misread, possibly because the white audience could not reconcile their anxiety about blacks using these important signs of power (Brown 2003, 43–47). Cabildos themselves were a symbol of authority that could not be reconciled in the Spanish colonial mind. This is evident in the relationship Spanish authorities had (or pretended not to have) with these associations . It is clear that Spanish authorities saw these institutions as a threat as early as the late eighteenth century; they are mentioned in Havana’s Bando de Buen Gobierno y Policía de 1792 (Proclamation for Good Government and Policy of 1792). Before the 1792 regulations, cabildos were allowed to gather and perform within Old Havana’s fortress walls—the area referred to as intramurros ; after 1792 they were relegated to the areas outside the walls, or extramuros (Brown 2003, 28). These regulations removed Africans and Afro-Cubans who had been using public space to demonstrate their presence (and power) from the presence of wealthy merchants, the titled Spanish nobility, and the bourgeois class living within the intramurros. Of course, let us not forget that both the Church and the Spanish...


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