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Student Project Abstracts: Spring 2010

The following are abstracts of students' projects from the Hampshire in Cuba Exchange Program in spring 2010:

Pamela Arbogast
Title: ”Voices”

How do gender, race, and discourse affect music and musicians? How has the hip hop community related to these themes? This project attempts to analyze female presence within the larger Cuban hip hop scene. How have female rappers interacted with this performative art form dominated by males? What disadvantages do they face as women and why?

Rudi Cohen
Title: Pensamiento Crítico: Context, Content and Development

My project in Cuba centered around the review Pensamiento Critico, which came out of the philosophy department at the University of Havana and was published from 1967 to 1971. To learn about the review I studied with Juan Valdes Paz and Aurelio Alonso Tejada, who were both involved with the philosophy department during this time. The final product of my semester is a paper that has three main parts. First, it attempts to describe the socio-political context out of which P.C. emerged, because it was this context that allowed an opening for that kind of critical heterodox publication. Second, I argue that P.C. was part of a larger cultural project that also consisted of the philosophy department and the Instituto de Libro, since all of them had the same group of intellectuals involved that, among other things, promoted a similar critical position of orthodoxy. Finally, I attempt to show the kinds of developments that can be found in P.C. in as many forms as possible, such as its reflection of important political moments, the emergence of new international leftist movements that grabbed their attention, and the reflection of the intellectual development within the group that was publishing it. I plan on continuing to work on this project in the coming two semesters in order to expand the paper and get a better idea of the impact of P.C. in current Cuban intellectualism.

Carl Elsaesser
Video: What is Magical Realism?

"Space, sPace, spAce" is a short film that looks at the ways in which Cuba's written history, and more specifically (the revolution and Fidel Castro's speech to the intellectuals) have changed the writing spaces of several Cuban authors. It is a critical engagement with the gaps Cuba's history has produced and the ways the authors (Dulce Maria Loyenez, Alejo Carpentier, Lezama Lima, Reinaldo Arenas), through their examination and representations of these gaps, as well as, their literary, personal, and political livelihood, have become dynamically related to the present, past, and future of Cuba's history.

Sean Fletcher
Title: Giving Signals of Culture

My time in Cuba was split between studying Spanish and Cuban linguistics with two professors from the University of Havana and being a field ethnographer in the Cuban deaf community. My final project was a sociolinguistics paper that looks at aspects of the Cuban deaf community and their language. While in Cuba I had one meeting per week with my tutors where we looked at linguistic concepts pertinent to Cuban Spanish, and I also simultaneously studied both Spanish and the Lengua de Señas Cubana (Cuban Sign Language, LSC) so I would be able to communicate with the deaf community.

Thais Guisasola
Title: Ladies first?

In a society where one’s sexual identity and orientation is limited and controlled to fit the norm, actions that transgress and challenge expected behaviors reconfigure the meaning of citizenship and national identities. With this short script and video, I aim to be another voice reinforcing the importance of a society where different identities can coexist. This script/video is about performance in the content of Havana, Cuba

Celia Kitchell
Title: To study Art is to Learn How to Question Reality: Talking to 12 Cuban Printmakers

Cuba has a long tradition of printmaking, and printmakers and artists in general have long played an important role in Cuban society. For my research I interviewed 12 contemporary printmakers on how they saw their work in relation to Cuban printmaking traditions and to Cuba itself. What do these printmakers have to say about the ongoing scarcity of the Special Period? About emigration? About the Cuban nation? About Cuban history? And what do their trajectories as artists show about Cuban art and Cuban society? I will talk about several of the 12 Cuban printmakers I interviewed, what they told me about art and Cuba, what I saw in their work.

Aymee Malena
Title: “¿Y qué de los que se quedan?/What Happened to the Ones Who Stayed?”

Cuban emigration to the United States has been mostly studied by sociologists and historians from a social, economic, and political perspective. However, the personal life stories of people who stayed behind have not always been thoroughly documented. My paper attempts to unravel the impact of emigration from the perception of those who have stayed behind through the literary and film narratives of artists who live and work in Cuba.

Meghan Maloney
Title: “Conceptualization of the Cuban Literacy Campaign. A Different Approach to Popular Education”

My paper draws on the subject of the 1961 Literary Campaign in Cuba, while at the same time I reminisce about my own views on Popular Education. The work is structured through seven topics: “structure of the Campaign,” “Mobilization of the alfabetizadores,´” “the cartilla and the manual,” the myth of the simple transition from guns to pencils,” the army of ´alfabetizadores,´” “The follow-up,” and “The final public demonstration.” Each one of these subtopic are substantiated by readings and viewing of films, interviews to ´alfabetizadores´ and ´alfabetizados,´ as well as by those who conceived and organized the campaign.

Frances McGrath
Title: The Complexities, Development, and Contextualization of Cuban Music

I spent my time in Cuba trying to better understand Cuban music. My work with my tutor, Radamés Giro, an incredibly knowledgeable musicologist, taught me that the music of the island is no way limited to any one genre, although often people assume that the tropical music connected with the Caribbean vacation is it. Through a study of different versions of a few classic Cuban songs, such as the very famous “El Manisero,” and folk tunes like “Los Tres Golpes,” I was able to look at every genre of Cuban music over time. Starting with contradanzas, and continuing to the Afro-Cuban jazz of the later half of the 20th century, in New York City and Havana, and to Cuban music and musicians today, and examining each song’s context, I found an easier and narrower way to try and understand the very complex music of a complicated island.

Edward Mulhern
Title: Looking out at Havana and Looking in through the Cuban Cinematic Journey

Cuban cinema since its foundation at the triumph of the revolution has always been a radical one, and not necessarily in terms of ideology. The earliest Cuban films utilized a radical form and narrative to strive towards a better world and perhaps a utopia. But since the fall of the Soviet Union the Cuban cinema industry has been forced to change for better or for worse. With changes in the industry, an artistic vision has also changed. I argue in my paper that the most recent Cuban films appropriate the aesthetic and narrative traditions of its predecessors to place it in new realities and problematize its theoretical conceptions. I chose to examine particular markers that I find important to Cuban culture which I explored in detail; the panoramic portrait of Havana and the Cuban journey film.

Guillermo Ortiz
Title: Rediscovering Havana’s Colonial Porticos

Cuba’s 18th and 19th century colonial architecture exhibits a wide assortment of detailing and ornament of great beauty and expressiveness in its porticos. My original project consisted in photographing the most architecturally luxurious porticos of the historic center in Old Havana, but that original idea changed when I was invited by the City of the Historian’s Master Plan Office to help them expand its digital photo archive. The archive was started in 2001 by a group of Hampshire College students under the supervision of Professors Jacqueline Hayden and Joan Braderman. With that new goal in mind, my tutor, Jaime Rodriguez and I, photographed not only porticos but also the buildings and empty spaces of 42 city blocks. During our photo sessions we realized that the porticos of most of the buildings--inspired by imported European styles but rethought and executed by Cuban artisans--had been ‘redesigned’ by their current dwellers to meet their pressing housing needs. For that reason, our work was, in a way, archeological, since we had to visually dig in order to identify the original architectural characteristics of many of these porticos under their new “architectural costume.” We took over 1000 photos of these buildings and more than 18 porticos that despite their present neglect and an unbecoming appearance still retain an unquestionable beauty.

Cassidy Schlager
Title: “Balance and Contradiction. The Complete Medicine of Ifá”

My love affair with plants and work in alternative healing have collided in Cuba, provoking an unconventional journey into the  philosophy (Ifá) and medicinal practices of the African-based religion of Yoruba. This philosophy is the successor to many Afro-Cuban practices, such as Santeria. At the core of my studies are the healing beliefs and practices, which are deeply rooted in mythology, ritual, and divination. The medicine of Ifá functions on a much deeper level than its allopathic counterpart. Rather than relying on pills or even herbal preparations to suppress superficial symptoms, Ifá implements the divination, sacrifice, ritual, and application of the word through songs or incantations. Combining these components with the preparation and application of the medicine that an individual needs addresses the root cause of disease and restores the necessary balance to their body, mind and spirit. This is complete healing.

Esmé Vaandrager
Title: “When the Horizon is a Wall: Staging the Unending Camino in Cuban Theatre”

I have spent three months in Cuba learning about the way contemporary Cuban theatre presents Cuban realities by seeing and reading plays and conducting interviews. Common themes I noted are family, emigration, ideological differences amongst generations, the struggle for daily for daily survival, and coded humor critiques of the Cuban political system. I am most drawn to texts that interpret Cuban-ness in a critical manner based on non-fictional historical and current events, including Alberto Pedro’s Manteca, Mar Nuestro, and Delirio Habanero. Thus I fell in love with Josefina la viajera (Josefina the traveler), a monologue written by Cuban playwright Abilio Estévez, directed and adapted by Carlos Díaz and starring Osvaldo Doimeadós. Josefina is a “crazy old lady” who has been traveling the world ever since she left her hometown in Oriente in eastern Cuba, one hundred and three years ago in the hopes that one day she will get to La Habana. Josefina’s imaginary journey twists facts and dreams to tell the history of Cubans, their aspirations and constraints. Josefina’s inability to travel is not only a burden for Cubans on the island, but for those who have left and are legally and/or economically prevented from returning. Through my analysis of Josefina la viajera I have also come to better understand Cuba.

 

 

 

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