IN CUBA, IS THERE A FEM­I­NINE

Art On Cuba - - INDEX - IDANIA TRU­JILLO

Who are de­voted to this ex­pres­sion of vis­ual arts in the is­land? What are their po­et­ics, es­thet­ics and the sub­jects they work on…? A young wo­man re­searcher an­swers these and other ques­tions from a com­mit­ted and crit­i­cal stand­point.

Ever since she stud­ied at the Fac­ulty of Arts and Let­ters of the Univer­si­dad de la Ha­bana, Aldeide Del­gado be­gan to get in­ter­ested in re­search­ing about women who draw on photography as a means of artis­tic ex­pres­sion. She rum­maged through the labyrinths of the his­tory of photography, the es­thet­ics of art… Along this path she made find­ings, as­serted cer­tain­ties and asked her­self ques­tions that brought about new ques­tions, she put on her gen­der glasses and in this man­ner, grad­u­ally, she col­lected in­for­ma­tion un­til she con­ceived the Catál­ogo de Fotó­grafas Cubanas (Cat­a­logue of Cuban Women Pho­tog­ra­phers), “which in this mo­ment—she ex­plains—is in the process of de­sign and struc­tur­ing and al­ready there is a team work­ing on its vi­a­bil­ity from the ed­i­to­rial per­spec­tive.”

In what mea­sure do you con­sider that the Cat­a­logue… con­trib­utes to the vis­i­bil­ity of this art and to dig­ni­fy­ing women cre­ators who use this means of ex­pres­sion? What names, sub­ject­mat­ters and es­thet­ics stand out in this project for char­ac­ter­iz­ing the cur­rent Cuban women pho­to­graphic cre­ation?

It has been a fas­ci­nat­ing project due to the his­to­ries that have been un­folded, the au­thors re­vealed and the pho­to­graphs that I have been able to find. It is a work that in­volves search­ing and res­cu­ing that will defini­tively give rise to other projects de­riv­ing from this ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It pre­tends—and in this sense lies its con­tri­bu­tion—to gen­er­ate a car­tog­ra­phy, a tra­di­tion of women pho­tog­ra­phers that should pro­vide par­a­digms and ref­er­ents to con­tem­po­rary women artists and at the same time will ac­knowl­edge and as­sess their cre­ations. Con­cern­ing sub­ject-mat­ters I em­pha­size the treat­ment of the body, sel­f­ref­er­en­tial­ity, the gen­der dis­course, the ex­plo­ration of sex, iden­tity as well as a more ob­jec­tive and ex­per­i­men­tal trend that is found in Grethell Rasúa, San­dra Ramos, Su­sana Pi­lar De­la­hante, María Cien­fue­gos, Mar­i­anela Orozco, Lisan­dra Is­abel García, Linet Sánchez, Le­y­sis Que­sada and Khadis de la Rosa, among others.

How would you de­fine the pho­to­graphic art made by women in Cuba, as re­gards trends, sub­ject-mat­ters and po­et­ics? Is it pos­si­ble to talk about a fem­i­nine or fem­i­nist photography?

I will start by an­swer­ing the sec­ond ques­tion be­cause I would like to ex­plain minutely the con­cepts of fem­i­nine photography which is not the same as fem­i­nist. First of all, I am not in fa­vor of us­ing the term “fem­i­nine photography”; rather the term photography in which the sub­jec­tiv­i­ties and fe­male uni­verses are dealt with. My op­po­si­tion to the first term lies on the car­di­nal cri­te­rion stated in the phrase. A “fem­i­nine” photography im­plies ac­knowl­edg­ing the ex­is­tence of a “mas­cu­line” photography, and that would mean to fall into the same sex/gen­der sys­tem which we want to come out of. What would be the fea­tures of the so called fem­i­nine photography? Would it deal with ba­nal, non-tran­scen­dent and in­tro­spec­tive sub­ject-mat­ters? Where would we insert the work of María Eugenia Haya, Nereida García or Mayra Martínez? Or is it that in their cases it is about the re­pro­duc­tion of an hege­monic mas­cu­line dis­course? Nelly Richard in Mas­cu­line-fem­i­nine.

Prac­tices of the dif­fer­ence and demo­cratic cul­ture has writ­ten that “fem­i­nine es­thetic usu­ally con­notes an art that ex­presses women taken as a nat­u­ral fact and not as a sym­bolic-dis­cur­sive cat­e­gory, formed and de­formed by the sys­tems of uni­ver­sal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Fem­i­nine art—con­tin­ues say­ing Richard—would be the rep­re­sen­ta­tive art of a uni­ver­sal fem­i­nin­ity or of the fe­male essence that il­lus­trates a uni­verse of val­ues and mean­ings as­so­ci­ated to the sen­si­tiv­ity, cor­po­re­al­ness and af­fec­tiv­ity that in the al­lot­ment mas­cu­line-fem­i­nine have been tra­di­tion­ally re­served to women.”

On the other hand, fem­i­nist art as­sumes in a cog­nizant man­ner, a dep­re­cat­ing po­si­tion as re­gards the stereo­typed im­ages of women and it is in­volved in spe­cific so­cial changes as a form of ac­tivism and im­pact in the world of art it­self. For ex­am­ple, in

1972, Half Moon, the Lon­don gallery, started the pho­to­graphic project Women on Women which in­te­grated the pho­tog­ra­phers Mag­gie Mur­ray, Sally Green­hill, Val Wilmer and An­gela Phillips. Since this ex­hi­bi­tion, these women cre­ators—self-de­fined fem­i­nists—started to be con­sid­ered as a group of dis­cus­sion and cri­tique of fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tions, while they stud­ied set­ting up al­ter­na­tives to the use of photography in the cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety. They pub­lished pho­tos of demon­stra­tions of women as re­gards the abor­tion leg­is­la­tion and com­bined graphic de­sign with the com­po­si­tion of their im­ages to cre­ate texts to sup­port the protest march. Fem­i­nist art—ac­cord­ing to Eli Bar­tra, pioneer of stud­ies con­cern­ing art with gen­der per­spec­tive—rep­re­sents a strug­gle, re­bel­lious­ness against the subor­di­nate con­di­tion of women.

It is a cog­nizant at­ti­tude both on the artis­tic pro­duc­tion as well as in the the­o­ret­i­cal field that is joined to the de­mands of women con­cern­ing so­cial, cul­tural and civil rights.

In Cuba there are many women pho­tog­ra­phers con­cerned about the gen­der con­flicts; how­ever, the treat­ment of these sub­jects partly con­tin­ues be­ing stereo­typed and lack­ing re­source­ful so­lu­tions both in the­matic as well as con­cep­tual lev­els. The im­print of the cre­ative work by Marta María Pérez and Cire­naica Mor­eira is per­ceived in some of them, while others find in an ob­ject po­etic the nec­es­sary el­e­ments for the dis­course of an im­agery on the fem­i­nine. With­out any doubt, one of the con­tri­bu­tions of mak­ing a re­search fo­cused on the work of women artists lies in the pos­si­bil­ity of an­a­lyz­ing from the cri­tique per­spec­tive how women see them­selves, within a con­text that has al­ways set them on the other side of the cam­era. The Cat­a­logue of Cuban Women Pho­tog­ra­phers is a con­tri­bu­tion in this sense, be­cause the work they have been mak­ing will be­come vis­i­ble, and mainly, for those who are more con­tem­po­rary it should mean a point of re­flec­tion as re­gards their fore­run­ners and to what ex­tent they rec­og­nize them­selves or not in that tra­di­tion.

The in­sis­tence on my an­swer to the ques­tion whether there is a fem­i­nine or fem­i­nist photography in Cuba is based on the premise that I do not con­sider ap­pro­pri­ate to re­fer to the photography made by women as a “fem­i­nine photography” due to the el­e­ments pre­vi­ously ex­plained; and we can­not speak ei­ther of a fem­i­nist photography since, even though some au­thors ap­proach the gen­der sub­ject-mat­ter, there is no po­lit­i­cal at­ti­tude to be found, nei­ther is there a cog­nizant and ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion in the so­cial re­al­ity, since they re­ject or fear their work be an­a­lyzed from this per­spec­tive. Its dis­tinc­tion stems from an at­ti­tude that de­mand the re­vi­sion of his­tory to search for hid­den mod­els and the pos­si­bil­ity of un­fold­ing the­matic ar­eas from a gen­der per­spec­tive.

What traits dif­fer­en­ti­ate women pho­tog­ra­phers that in Cuba are in­clined to­wards a more doc­u­men­tary pho­to­graphic art from those who as­sume it from a more cre­ative per­spec­tive? And I would like to clar­ify that for me both ex­pres­sions are artis­tic.

In­deed. I think it is nec­es­sary to clar­ify con­cepts as I do not feel at ease mak­ing a dis­tinc­tion be­tween doc­u­men­tary photography and a more cre­ative one. In fact I think that in this mo­ment we should broaden or re­vise judg­ments ac­cord­ing to which we keep clas­si­fy­ing Cuban photography. Fre­quently we speak of doc­u­men­tary photography as that which is more di­rect or tes­ti­mo­nial and con­cep­tual photography is de­fined by per­haps a more cre­ative char­ac­ter and ma­nip­u­la­tion. I think we should be more flex­i­ble with these cat­e­go­riza­tions and en­cour­age a more open in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the pho­to­graphic lan­guage. Some artists pre­tend to de-con­struct the codes of doc­u­men­tary photography by means of “sub­jec­ti­vat­ing” con­cepts like a fea­ture story or photo-jour­nal­ism, others are led to­wards a more staged im­age, posed or per­formed, and there also ap­proaches from an ex­per­i­men­tal trend. Juan An­to­nio Molina has stated that “the pho­to­graphic im­age is no longer seen as an ob­ject en­closed in its tech­ni­cal and lin­guis­tic speci­ficity, in­stead it is seen and con­sid­ered as a mixed ob­ject, open to cross-lan­guages and tex­tual ref­er­ences. Events are staged, ob­jects are in­vented, and sub­jects are dis­guised.” From this per­spec­tive, I can tell you that many times women pho­tog­ra­phers prac­tice one or other ten­dency. Some of them as­sume higher lev­els of de­ter­mi­na­tion and fo­cus on just one vari­ant, while some others ex­plore through the con­cep­tion of se­ries or projects the dif­fer­ent ways of make.

I have ob­served that in the his­tory of photography—in a gen­eral sense, but mostly in that made by women—it is fre­quent what is self-ref­er­en­tial to ap­proach so­cial or so­ci­o­log­i­cal is­sues, as for ex­am­ple ag­ing, so­cial and spir­i­tual de­te­ri­o­ra­tion, con­sump­tion, re­li­gion, race, ma­ter­nity, gen­der rep­re­sen­ta­tions, eroti­cism... What do you think this is due to?

As you have well stated the self-ref­er­en­tial prac­tice is not an ex­clu­sive phe­nom­e­non of women cre­ators. In her pa­per to ob­tain her mas­ter’s de­gree, cu­ra­tor and re­searcher Onedys Calvo ac­knowl­edges the pro­lif­er­a­tion of dis­courses on iden­tity and the re­asser­tion of the in­di­vid­ual since the 1990s. Artists like René

Peña, Marta María Pérez, San­dra Ramos, Aimée Gar­cia, Elvis Céllez, Car­los José García and some others that are more con­tem­po­rary like Car­los Martiel, Su­sana Pi­lar De­la­hante or the win­ner of the Beca de Crea­cion Raul Cor­rales 2014 (Raul Cor­rales Schol­ar­ship for Cre­ation) granted by the Fo­toteca de Cuba and Con­sejo Na­cional de las Artes Plas­ti­cas (Pho­to­graphic Li­brary and the Na­tional Coun­cil of Vis­ual Arts), Rigob­erto Oquendo (Cha­cho) de­velop a pro­duc­tion some­times in a de­tailed form, that from the re­search on the self they set the prob­lem is­sue into the so­cio­cul­tural con­text.

How­ever, for women artists, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween sel­f­ref­er­en­tial­ity and photography is based on a tra­di­tion es­tab­lished ap­prox­i­mately in the 1960s. Photography and video were the sup­ports used by the au­thors with the pur­pose, in the first place, of mov­ing away from the tra­di­tional artis­tic gen­res, and in the sec­ond place, of build­ing a nar­ra­tion that started from the au­to­bi­o­graphic, from a per­sonal vi­sion that would show the plu­ral­ity and di­ver­sity of women in com­par­i­son to an hege­monic “must be” be­ing. This “must be” set up since preg­nancy es­tab­lishes in women the fem­i­nin­ity cri­te­rion as­so­ci­ated to moth­er­hood, wife, mar­tyr, the sac­ri­ficed one, the ideal…, in a con­stant be­ing for others but not for her­self as Marcela La­garde has also ex­pressed. They, we, are fac­ing a con­text in which sub­ject-mat­ters as ma­ter­nity for ex­am­ple are con­stantly be­ing ide­al­ized, in this way over­look­ing the dis­rup­tions, dan­gers, fears and dif­fi­cul­ties that women have to face dur­ing this stage.

Like this, women cre­ators find in photography the ideal medium to reg­is­ter their en­vi­ron­ment, their daily lives and their body in an at­tempt at ex­plo­ration and recog­ni­tion. For them it is vi­tal to be de­fined be­yond the val­ues of an as­signed iden­tity and in cor­re­spon­dence to their par­tic­u­lar life ex­pe­ri­ences. That is the rea­son why self-rep­re­sen­ta­tion is a fre­quent ex­er­cise in the process of re­asser­tion as sub­jects and in the re­def­i­ni­tion of their bod­ies, con­cerns and ex­pec­ta­tions in or­der to con­front a pa­tri­ar­chal dis­course.

Since the 2000s there is an abun­dant pho­to­graphic pro­duc­tion made by women in Cuba which al­though it is di­verse and het­ero­ge­neous in its sub­ject-mat­ters and es­thet­ics it is un­for­tu­nately un­known at the level of cri­tique and spa­ces to be dis­played. Is it that women cre­ators are at a dis­ad­van­tage? Or is it a ques­tion of self-lim­i­ta­tion? If there is pro­duc­tion and even more, if the num­ber of women who study and prac­tice photography in Cuba out­num­bers that of men, don’t you think it is di­chotomic that their cre­ation does not reach the vis­i­bil­ity and pro­mo­tion that photography made by men has got?

There are many cre­ators at a dis­ad­van­tage, and that is a prob­lem of the cri­tique com­mod­ity and the lack of mul­ti­ple spa­ces where you can ex­hibit your work. There are very good at­tempts, though, for ex­am­ple, re­cently I was read­ing a text by Grethel Morell on the Move­ment of Women Pho­tog­ra­phers in Jagüey Grande, there is also the multimedia Women pho­tog­ra­phers in the New

“In Cuba there are many women pho­tog­ra­phers con­cerned about the gen­der con­flicts; how­ever, the treat­ment of these sub­jects partly con­tin­ues be­ing stereo­typed and lack­ing re­source­ful so­lu­tions. The im­print of the cre­ative work by Marta María Pérez and Cire­naica Mor­eira is per­ceived in some of them…”

Mil­len­nium cre­ated by Ana Gabriela Bal­late. Dan­nys Montes de Oca has an avail­able es­say in the web, Con­tem­po­rary Cuban women pho­tog­ra­phers in the con­struc­tion of gen­der and iden­ti­ties, pioneer in the anal­y­sis of gen­der dis­course in the pho­to­graphic prac­tice. Also the ex­hi­bi­tion project Cuban art, voices and fem­i­nine po­et­ics (1990-2013) was fo­cused on the pro­duc­tion of women and in­cor­po­rated sev­eral women pho­tog­ra­phers. I would like to en­hance the page Cuban Women Pho­tog­ra­phers by San­dra Ab­dAl­lah-Ál­varez Ramírez which de­vel­ops a cam­paign to make more vis­i­ble and pro­mote women cre­ators at the same time that it pro­motes from the artivist project, La ne­gra tiene mendó (The Black Wo­man has mendó), the ex­plo­ration of top­ics as­so­ci­ated to the is­sues of black and fat women.

In 2016, la Co­mu­nidad Ar­tis­tica Creativa Yeti (The Cre­ative Artis­tic Com­mu­nity Yeti)—with a seat at the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Playa, Ha­vana—con­vened the first edi­tion of a sa­lon of women pho­tog­ra­phers in Cuba with the name of Tina Modotti. At that time I won­dered why, de­spite hav­ing out­stand­ing na­tional ex­po­nents, we keep ded­i­cat­ing our events to for­eign au­thors, or is it that María Eugenia Haya’s or Marta María Pérez’ s work is not broad or sig­nif­i­cant enough to de­velop an event af­ter them? Or per­haps En­car­nación Iróstegui, rec­og­nized as our first women photographer. Ev­i­dently, there is a great lack of in­for­ma­tion due to the still weak sys­tem of artis­tic-pho­to­graphic for­ma­tion. Be­sides, our lev­els of anal­y­sis and ap­proach to the medium are still in­ef­fi­cient and are not up­dated as to the in­ter­na­tional pho­to­graphic per­form­ing or mod­els of mod­els of critic re­view­ers. How­ever there is some ev­i­dence and here I have proved that the pro­duc­tion made by women is not be­ing ne­glected.

As re­gards the in­crease of women in photography, I would like to make it quite clear, projects are not to fill in sta­tis­ti­cal data. That is, we are not go­ing to make an ex­hi­bi­tion count­ing how many women are there, how many men, how many blacks, how many whites, how many are from prov­inces… we must avoid the non-vis­i­bil­ity or the lack of in­for­ma­tion about the cre­ative pro­cesses of other regions and so­cial groups, but there must be some work to sup­port their in­cor­po­ra­tion to the cu­ra­to­rial and re­search projects. Above all there must be an an­a­lyt­i­cal judg­ment, if not, it is an­other thing. ƒ

LE­Y­SIS QUE­SADA Sosiego, 2001-2005

GILDA PÉREZ

From the se­ries Paisajes de pa­tio, 1978

Cour­tesy Catál­ogo de Fotó­grafas Cubanas

LISSETTE SOLÓRZANO − Lo real es mar­avil­loso, 2006 CIRE­NAICA MOR­EIRA − Abajo es­toy de­spierta, 2003

MARÍA MAG­DALENA CAMPOS-PONS − De las dos aguas, 2007

Cour­tesy Catál­ogo de Fotó­grafas Cubanas

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