Queloides: Race and Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art

René Peña, Samurai, fotografía, 133 x 69.5 cm. 2009.

The  W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University is hosting an extraordinary art exhibition that focuses on issues of race and racism in Cuba. Queloides: Race and Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art is part of a long-term project that began with an exhibition curated by Alexis Esquivel and Omar Pascual Castillo in 1997, at Casa de Africa in Havana. Despite the poor coverage and lack of recognition of the first exhibit, a second and larger show was organized by the late Ariel Ribeaux Diago in Havana, in 1999. But it wasn’t until a 2010 exhibition at the Wifredo Lam Center of Contemporary Art, an exhibit space run by the Cuban government, that Queloides drew its largest audiences. The third show succeeded beyond expectations due to the strength of the curated works and as a result of a word-of-mouth campaign to promote it. The Cuban government, wary of the themes and the content of the exhibit, refused to allow it to be publicized.

Alejandro de la Fuente (a Professor of History and Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh) and Elio Rodríguez Valdés (a Cuban-born artist who currently lives in Spain) organized and curated Queloides for its North American debut and tour in 2011. They serve as guest curators for the exhibit hosted by the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, which opened on January 25 and runs until May 30, 2012 in the Rudenstine Gallery at Harvard University.

The English translation for the word Queloides is “keloids,” which is a type of raised scar that many Cubans (and others) believe black skin is particularly susceptible. Aside from invoking the scars of racism in contemporary Cuba—a topic that remains taboo in the public discourse—it also is suggestive of the scars left on the backs of enslaved Africans who were beaten for their resistance and rebellion.

Featured artists in the exhibition, all of whom are Cuban-born, include Pedro Álvarez, Manuel Arenas, Belkis Ayón, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Roberto Diago, Alexis Esquivel, Armando Mariño, René Peña, Marta María Pérez Bravo, Douglas Pérez, Elio Rodriguez, and José Toirac/Meira Marrero. These talented women and men approach their subjects from a variety of perspectives, using diverse media to present their visions.

The artists of Queloides deal with issues of race and racism in different ways. All of their work, however, offers a revisionist and critical reading of the history of Cuba, a reading that highlights the contributions of the Africans and their descendants to the formation of the Americas in general, and the Cuban nation in particular. Their Cuba is not the harmonious and fraternal Cuba portrayed in official national narratives, but a nation built on violence, slavery, rape, and the unbearable stench of the slave ships. It is a Cuba where colonial legacies remain alive, feeding discrimination and exclusion.

Armando Mariño La Patera, instalación (carro, piernas) 2010.

Alexis Esquivel, Smile, you won!

Manuel Arenas, Cuidado hay negro, instalación , 2010

Manuel Arenas, Cuidado hay negro, instalación , 2010

Click the following link for more information on the exhibition: Spring 2012 – Queloides: Race and Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art | W.E.B. Du Bois Institute.

Click the following link to access the web site for the Queloides Project.

There also is a catalog of the exhibit available via Amazon.


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