I look forward to digging up my handwritten notes from my meeting with Veronica in order to see if there’s something more to include. I’m fairly certain that I’m not going to get a better perspective than what I have reported. However, it is not hard for other researchers to find her in Havana. She’s in ETESCA’s phonebook and has been for quite some time. I think she would like to hear from more people.
What more I can reveal is what that she expressly wanted to share with others. Here is a selection of further photographs that she highlighted in our exchange:
Her photo collection is compelling in a number of ways. I’d note that throughout there are a number of ways in which African diasporic identities are referenced. Also, the images show that she very much did travel all around Cuba and in Europe performing. Perhaps most importantly, Veronica Garcia was a star of the show.
Images reproduced here with permission from Veronica Garcia.
My 2014 book featured work from four generations of the same religious family. However, over the course of my research, I worked with a number of practicing espiritistas. I have not had the opportunity to publish these images elsewhere, so I thought I would include them here on the website.
Portrait of Francisca, spirit guide to Francesca Lizzi. Centro Habana.
All of the espiritistas with whom I spoke actively worked with these art objects. None of these were static works of art. Whether through physical touch, changing objects nearby in the altar, the placement of the work, or even the clothes or dress added to the sculpture, the religious artist regularly rearranged the object to reflect changing requests for the spirits represented.
April was a whirlwind of activity! Among the highlights, James Madison University’s Duke Hall Gallery of Fine Art hosted Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons and I in conversation about her work.
We spoke for nearly an hour and a half, including wonderful audience questions and responses. During the conversation, Campos-Pons discussed the above work, Island Treasures, in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum. I brought the work up for discussion because I had been interested in linking the materials featured in the work to Afro-Atlantic religious arts practices. Often sticks are bundled together as an offering, or a means of contemplating changes in one’s world. However, Campos-Pons pointed to even greater meanings. She had collected these sticks on the island of Gorée, in Senegal, just outside of the House of Slaves, a holding point for captive Africans being sent to the Americas in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Above: “Cutting bananas,” Lithograph printed by the Diamond News Co. of Havana, c. 1899-1907.
As noted in a prior post on this website, since April 2015, I have been a contributing editor to the online scholarly publication cubacounterpoints.com. Below are links to my essays published there so far. I’d like to thank the amazing Ariana Hernandez Reguant, our Executive Editor. Also, my co-editor on SOUVENIRS, María Antonia Cabrera Arús, has been fabulous to collaborate with.
Online essays by Kris Juncker at Cuba Counterpoints:
María Antonia Cabrera Arús and I are editing a feature, ‘SOUVENIRS,’ for the new online journal Cuba Counterpoints.
In large part, I suspect that many of the materials that I had been planning for this website will now be part of this much larger forum. I will continue to provide updates here from time to time, however.
I am especially happy to have this opportunity to collaborate with María because of the interests that we share in common. Please check out her blog: http://cubamaterial.com. María is a trained sociologist. I come from a background of predominantly art history with a fair amount of training in anthropology. The entries will be short, but I imagine that, over time, this growing collection of essays will render even larger conversations about material culture and interdisciplinary approaches.
I invite fellow scholars to submit images of Cuban or Cuban diasporic objects and short essays (no more than 1000 words) to ‘SOUVENIRS.’
Just after I handed the book manuscript over to the publisher for the last time, a tiny bit of chaos ensued. The digital image selected for the cover was old, and was not enough megapixels to work. But, that fan created by the artist Ben Jones was a perfect fit for that cover. Ben suggested that I contact New Jersey-based photographer, Mansa Mussa, to reshoot the fan. Mansa saved the day.
Since that time, I have been very fortunate to have made a new colleague and friend in the field of Afro-Atlantic arts and cultural expression. Mansa K. Mussa’s photography and artwork is exceptional. Above I include one of the images that he shot at a fashion show in Havana, Cuba, in the autumn of 2014. This model’s performance on the runway, holding a gold, Akan-inspired-sculpture-turned fan, wearing a yellow-gold dress, is fabulous. The references to the deity Ochún and contemporary West African fashion in Havana is pivotal to understanding contemporary attitudes to African Diasporic expression today.
More of Mansa K. Mussa’s work from that 2014 fashion show can be found here:
Quintero’s home was in the Lumumba district of Havana. However, as a religious artist and leader he was everywhere in Havana. Regularly hired to construct altars, he needed to source items from all over—including asking me to bring items to Cuba. To be honest, all of the travelling in circles around the city drove me a bit nuts. But, he wanted things to be just so, and his work was proof that an altar had to be created, and maintained, to certain specifications.
His spirit altar to ‘Ta José shown at the start of the slideshow above is particularly interesting in its representation of one of his guiding spirits. You’ll notice that the spirit is shown to be wearing relatively contemporary clothes, a guayabera shirt, and holding a cigar. Nearby in the altar, a Native American spirit complemented Quintero’s retinue of spirit advisors.
Among the photographs and personal papers belonging to twentieth-century Afro-Atlantic religious leaders that I consulted, there were a lot of notes. Ochún Guerre, or Hortensia Ferrer (1907-1992), documented her work thoroughly. Below is one of the notes from her collection.
Here is a translation of the document that Ochún Guerre likely wrote in the 1980s:
Remedies for Asthma*
Take one small piece of turtle shell and boil it in a liter and a half of water. Reduce to one liter. Take this three times a day for 21 days. Repeat the cycle two more times. That means to say, 21 days and 21 days more to complete a cycle of 63 days. Then stop taking this for one month and repeat the same formula.
Take one bottle of honey and one of dry wine. Boil them together and reduce into one bottle. Afterwards, place the bottle in the sun and leave undisturbed for three days. Take two times a day, morning and night.
Although very brief, these treatments involve significant references to mythologies and arts of the oricha, or the divinities of the Afro-Atlantic. Admittedly as a writer and art historian, I am tempted to break down these mythologies and meanings in Ochún Guerre’s note above for you and place these in the context of the Special Period in Cuba in the 1980s . However, as an educator, I suspect that this note might be a compelling way to engage students learning about African Diasporic history and religious arts.
*Please note: This is a translation of historical Afro-Atlantic treatments for asthma as written in the 1980s. The author of this website takes no position on efficacy. As in the past, contemporary Afro-Atlantic religious leaders insist that anyone suffering from such a condition must consult a licensed medical doctor.
I continue to put things on this blog that did not make it into my book, and, I suspect, won’t make it into my other projects. These are images and art objects, however, that I’ve thought a lot about. In particular, there is a lot more to say on the significance of textiles in the Black Atlantic.
Textiles for a batá celebration, collection of Joselito Quintero.
Detail: Gold-starred shirt for Ochún. Photograph by KJ, Dec 2004.
The first few images here are textiles hanging up in a room for a batá celebration. There’s one shirt, for a male priest, or santero, of Ochún. The gold stars on white are lovely in complement with a gold trim. Nearby are paños of different colors representative of an array of oricha that might appear at a drum celebration. As a santero is possessed by a divinity, either a paño will be placed around their shoulders or even tied, somehow, around their torso. That way the audience knows through visual cues what oricha is present, and even, possibly, offering advice.
I did not take photographs during the actual drum celebration. However, there are plenty of public events with textiles for the oricha shown in action, and a small selection of my images are included here.