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Update: List of Cuba Counterpoints contributions by Kris Juncker

cuttingbananasAbove: “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 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:

     “Columbus and His Day.” October 12, 2015.

     “Portraits They Own.” September 30, 2015.

     “Cabaret or Erotica and the Various States of Undress.” August 3, 2015.

     “The Naughty Days of Prohibition.”September 4, 2015.

     “A Shipwreck for U.S.-Cuba Relations.” July 19, 2015.

     “Smoking in the 1930s and the World of Collecting.” May 15, 2015.

José Quintero, religious artist

José Quintero (c. 1960 – 2013) was an extremely demanding collaborator with regards to my research in Havana. He was a child of Ochún and an Oba-Oriaté, among the many titles one might give him.

José Quintero's spirit altar

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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.

More on Textiles… and Dance…

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.

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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.

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!

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).