On exhibit through May 29th
This exhibit is a tribute to Grupo Antillano (1978-1983), a forgotten visual arts and cultural movement that privileged the importance of Africa and Afro-Caribbean influences in the formation of the Cuban nation.
During its five years of existence, Grupo Antillano articulated a new vision of Cuban culture through the visual arts. This vision was popular, radical, Caribbean, Maroon, African, revolutionary. As the founding manifesto of the Group claims, they did not want to promote a new artistic concept, but rather sought to highlight the centrality of Africa in Cuban culture and to debunk dominant narratives that equated Cuban progress and modernity with European influences. They valiantly opposed the persistent belief, supported by vast sectors of the Cuban bureaucracy in the 1970s, that Afro-Cuban religious practices were backward, primitive and grotesque--a "remnant of the past," as they were frequently described at the time. Cuba, Grupo Antillano proclaimed, was quintessentially an Afro-Caribbean nation. Cuban modernity was anchored in the knowledge, the aesthetics, the cultures and the sweat and blood of the African peoples. "We are not interested in other worlds," their foundational manifesto asserted.
The art of Grupo Antillano belongs to a long tradition of Caribbean resistance and cultural assertion. It is part of what Haitian writer René Depestre described as the African slaves' “prodigious effort at legitimate defense” and "ideological cimarronaje" (from "cimarrón" or runaway slave) by which they managed to recreate their pasts and cultures in the new world.
In an article published in the mid-19th century, a medical doctor in a Louisiana plantation described a new disease among slaves. The most visible symptom of this disease, called drapetomania, was an irrepressible and pathological urge to flee and to be free. A form of resistance practiced by African slaves since the beginnings of European colonization in the Americas was transformed into a psychiatric disease, a deviation of the natural order.
It is thanks to the work of a large number of Caribbean intellectuals--like those involved in this exhibit--that what was described by the racist pseudo-science of the 19th century as an expression of disorder became a symbol of rebellion and resistance against European colonial oppression--the foundations of a new order. In the twentieth century, Caribbean thinkers such as Aimé Césaire, René Dépestre, Edward Kamau Brathwaite and Édouard Glissant conceptualized cimarronaje as an expression of cultural resistance and as a central feature of Caribbean identity. It is in this tradition of identity-building and Caribbean assertiveness that the work of Grupo Antillano needs to be analyzed. Founded by sculptor and engraver Rafael Queneditt Morales, Grupo Antillano's foundational manifesto stated clearly that they wanted to recreate the Caribbean and African foundations of an authentic Cuban culture. They also made clear that, to them, Africa was a lively and vital cultural reference, not a dead historical heritage. Fortunately, as Édouard Glissant once stated, the runaway slaves' indomitable resistance is still with us. Fortunately, we have that history, our history, the history that Grupo Antillano tried to reconstruct and to tell.