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Upcoming Talk: For Sensory Cultures of Religion Research Group, Yale University, April 14

Another talk I have coming up will discuss the significance of photography as a means to promote Regla de Ocha (or Santería) and a number of Afro-Atlantic religious practices. Below are some of the images, that are not in my first book, with which I am working.

Amparo Valencia at the Teatro Lírico, Havana. Flamenco-style costume. Circa 1959.

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Collection of A.V.

Seen above, more recent research has involved looking at cabaret photography and its role in documenting popular performance of religious mythologies.

For my first book, throughout the interviews I conducted with santeras in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and New York City, I found that a surprising number of religious leaders also worked as cabaret entertainers. The performance of African diasporic identities—particularly in the heightened instance as posed, portrait and documentary photography, is especially compelling to consider. Featured in the gallery above are a few snippets from the photo albums that I had the opportunity to sort through in Havana.

There’s more to this—and I’m writing it up!

Upcoming Talk: For ‘Branding Latin America’ Conference, Cambridge University, 8-9 April, 2015

I am in the throes of getting ready to present two papers in April. First up, my current research on early Twentieth-Century postcard representations of Cuba. Here is a small gallery of just eleven of the several hundred photomechanically produced images with which I am working. Below that is the abstract for my paper.

"Comparsa de Carnival." C. Jordi Publisher. Havana, Cuba. Circa 1901 to 1915.

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‘A Cuban Courtship’: Postcards and Colonial Nostalgia in the Early Twentieth Century

Cuba’s independence from Spain in 1899 ignited new movements in the depiction of Cuban culture through postcard production. Although the Cuban government and press appeared to advocate independence, this paper investigates conflicting movements that arose within popular sentiment. To be clear, in spite of rhetoric encouraging national sovereignty, a tide of Colonial nostalgia emerged among many tourism-based and creative industries. In most instances, postcard images were photographed by Cubans but mechanically printed in the United States and sold in Cuban tourist venues to both national and international audiences. These postcards regularly sought to characterise the nation and its people by transforming once-semi-anthropological materials that presented race, costume and social class into leisure-based paraphernalia. Arguably, this creative adaptation of such cultural studies involved rather extreme creative license and embellishment. In particular, postcards from the decades following Cuban independence illustrate extensive colouring of images as well as photomontage practices. This paper examines some of the more pernicious trends in the postcard representation of Cuba as these images offered inexpensive, mass-produced stereotypes of Cuban people to audiences both within Cuba and abroad. In striking contrast to the typologies printed about Cuba, many of these same postcard publishers otherwise printed images illustrating modern industrial development in European and American cities. However, in collusion, photographers and publishers continued to print images celebrating Cuba’s Colonial past and enforced stereotypes that persist even today.

Conference website: Branding Latin America

Book review from The Latin Americanist

In a book review of Afro-Cuban Religious Arts from The Latin Americanist, dated December 2014, historian Tiffany Sippial writes:

A collection of old photographs and treasured religious items provided Kristine Juncker with an entryway into a world that is often difficult for outsiders to access—the world of Afro-Cuban religion.  . . .

This concealment stems not only from a reverence for the sacred, but also from a long history of religious persecution on the island. . . .

Juncker provides a rigorous—almost curatorial—catalog of specific altars with a special focus on the symbolic meaning of the individual objects contained therein.. . .

See: The Latin Americanist

At the conclusion of the review, I was intrigued by the idea of working with the recipes as a teaching tool! Among the recipes, in particular, I will note here that those cornmeal cakes for Yemayá with sugarcane syrup are a lot of work! This would engage a lot of the senses. There’s the very sweet perfume of the sugar and the intensive amount of energy involved in combining the cornmeal with the syrup. This would offer a lot of context to the labor involved in historical sugar production in general, as well as entryway into discussing characteristics of different Afro-Caribbean oricha.

Carmen Oramas Caballery textile collection

Carmen Oramas Caballery (Oyadina)

Carmen Oramas Caballery (Oyadina)
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September 2002. Photographs in this gallery are by the author.

Carmen Oramas Caballery passed away in October 2014. This was just a bit more than a month after my book came out. She was a pivotal part of the project. Her family misses her. I miss her, too. In the months after her passing, I have pored over a lot of my photographs featuring her and her religious arts collections.

Among my collection of images, these images featuring clothing and textiles are particularly fun. In September 2002, she pulled a suitcase out from her makeshift closet and began pulling all of the textiles out. For the most part, these are not items that she made, but items that members of her community had made for her. There are also a few items for members of her religious family that she had stored away for them.

There is a large collection of paños, squares of coloured fabric, that are not only nice for decorating a temporary altar, but also useful during ritual and dance. The brightly coloured fabrics can help to indicate when an oricha is present—manifest by a santera. Or, alternately, used by a santera to help spiritually clean members present at a drumming, by wiping an individual—particularly one’s head, or where one has aches or pains.

There are two dresses for her oricha, Oya, the divine owner of cemeteries, stormy weather, and rainbows. Carmen was such a dynamic priest, and so captivating during ritual performance, that it was unsurprising that she absolutely treasured this clothing. For her, dancing for Oya, was among one of the most significant aspects of her practices. Mafarefún Oyadina! Mafarefún Egun! Mafarefún oricha!

Book review from CHOICE connect

The February issue of CHOICE, a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries, features a review of Afro-Cuban Religious Arts. 

Among the highlights, the reviewer notes that, “Through careful analysis of primary texts on these religions and their arts, Juncker begins to define the cultural changes that the religions endured not only because of modernisation but also because of their assimilation with Western religions.”

At the end, CHOICE notes that the book is “Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.”


Regla María Apezteguía, Conservator

Regla María Apezteguía

Regla María Apezteguía
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I previously discussed Regla a little bit in another gallery post a few months back. In this post I wanted to present some of her conservation work.When she’s not making new items–usually for Regla de Ocha practices, she’s often repairing religious art objects for her clientele. She’s done this throughout the ‘Special Period’ in Cuba, and she survives reasonably.  I saw her in 2014, and she’s still doing well.

I’ve held off featuring these images for a while because, well, most of the figures are undressed! It’s not the nudity, though. These really aren’t the best images, and it didn’t make sense to have them in the 2014 book. However, the significance of conservation is interesting.

I do want to clarify here that it’s really not bad luck among Afro Atlantic practices, at least in Cuba and Puerto Rico with which I’m most familiar, for people to break or discard saint figures or spirit dolls. People who can afford it often replace these items. What’s interesting is that these objects are so well loved that the owner seeks out Regla to fix them. And then bring them home and, for those figures that need it, dress them nicely. Usually, as I discuss in the book, that means historical period clothing for the spirit dolls.

Call for Papers: Photographs, Ethics and Africa on Display

DEADLINE: Friday, 9 JANUARY 2015

European Conference on African Studies
Paris, France
8-10 July 2015

Convened by: John Peffer (Ramapo College) and Kris Juncker (University of Warwick)

Title: Photographs, Ethics and Africa on Display

Photographic collections or “archives” from Africa and its diasporas are increasingly en vogue among researchers and curators internationally. What is less often discussed are the sensitive issues involved in repackaging such image objects for display in new contexts and for broader audiences in terms of historical time,  geographical place, or cultural location. For instance, copyright is usually understood to reside with the commissioner of a studio portrait but this has not usually been respected with regard to African collections that often fetishize their authors and individual collectors, with negatives used to reprint original images. Private family photographs are regularly repackaged to represent or condemn national culture. There are are also rights over personal images, beyond legal definition, which are more moral, spiritual, or cultural in dimension. In some cases, older images have been subject to local iconoclasm because they are not perceived to fit local definitions of propriety today. And yet, there are good historical reasons for wanting to display these images today, because, as in the case of studio photography, they show the world a kind of kind of positive self imaging as an antidote to afropessimism. This panel will discuss ways to work with this material in new ways, with both empathy for the subjects depicted and sensitivity to contemporary views on images.

Please submit your abstract through:

You will need to provide:
– Your name, first name, email and institutional affiliation;
– The title of your presentation (in English);
An abstract of your presentation in English, French or Portuguese (maximum 1500 characters).

Jaruco’s Church – attending to the plantation community

The town of Jaruco features a traditional town square in front of its church, San Juan Bautista, Saint John the Baptist. The Catholic Church founded the church in the late 1700s in order to attend to the growing number of plantations in the area. Local historian Nelson Tapanes Castellaños indicated a number of items on the church grounds are from this time period (including the bell–made from European metals) and some marble items throughout. However, perhaps, even more valuable, the church has maintained records of the people in the parish since its founding.



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Among these documents are notices about Tiburcia Sotolongo y Ugarte’s birth and baptism on San Miguel plantation. Also is an annotation of Josefa Sotolongo y Ugarte’s death only a few years later. There are a number of listings of a few other Afro-Cuban women with the surname Sotolongo in Havana in the early 1900s and possibly from the same plantation. Similarly, Jaruco’s church has records for the nearby Armenteros plantation, and, in Havana, Margarita Armenteros became Tiburcia’s godmother in La Regla de Ocha.

San Miguel Plantation in the former Jaruco Province

In 1861, Tiburcia Sotolongo (Ochun Miguá) was born on San Miguel Plantation in Jaruco Province, about 8 to 10 miles outside of the town of Jaruco. I had the opportunity, in April 2004, to travel out to the former plantation site. Although there is not a lot standing there, the farmer operating the site brought my research associate, Roberto Gómez Reyes, and I around to see the ruins that he has found.

View from the Parque Escaleras de Jaruco

View from the Parque Escaleras de Jaruco
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April 2004

The gallery above has images of a number of stone and brick foundation structures. These were likely the plantation house and possibly the barn. The enslaved workers held there prior to the 1880s and the labourers later brought to San Miguel probably lived in wood structures. However, this gallery also features images of a few of the standing nineteenth century structures, including the San Miguel train station depot (now converted into a contemporary domicile), and a smokestack from a sugar refinery that likely serviced the location.

The area of Jaruco was a tourist site through the 1970s and well-known for its views and lush tropical forested region. The artist Ana Mendieta carved one of her works, Jaruco Caves, in the popular park site in 1983. Along with local residents, however, we were unable to find the installation. It is possibly covered in vegetation, or, worse, has been removed. Notably, Mendieta intended for most of her installation work to be temporary and for the photographs to function as the intended output.

Regla María Apezteguía, religious artist in Havana, Cuba

Near to the Callejón de Hamel, in Central Havana, Regla María Apezteguía has had a very steady business since the 1980s. She paints objects for Afro-Cuban religious practices, and she also conserves and repairs older objects. Below is a gallery of her paños (squares) painted on satin for different oricha.

Regla María Apezteguía, Painter/Conservator

Regla María Apezteguía, Painter/Conservator
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As I researched my first book, I visited Regla a lot. I still visit her when I am in Havana, and she is a good friend. Because I was writing about one specific religious family and its history, however, her work did not exactly fit into that book. I say not exactly, because I did commission a number of celebratory paños from Regalia and presented these as presents for a few santeros that had been very supportive of the project.

I will feature some other galleries of Regla’s work here in this blog in the weeks ahead.