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.
‘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
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 (Oyadina)
Picture 1 of 12
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!
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.”
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.