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Student Project Abstracts: Spring 2011

Kristina Moss Gunnarsdóttir
Andrew Feinberg
Hanna Grieb
Robert J. Sakai
Jaffer Abid
Katherine Kaity
Rebecca Hanssens-Reed
Lia Campos
Dorothy Goldberger
Danielle Cattan
Barbara DaSilva
Oskar Peacock
Angela DiBattiste

Kristina Moss Gunnarsdóttir
“Suspended in Space”

Kristina’s field research project involved an investigation into the role of public space(s) in the development of Havana. After a careful examination of the evolution of public spaces in the history of the city, she undertook a detailed analysis of the importance of monumental public spaces and their messages during the Revolution. The cultivation of the central revolutionary idea of  'Todos' is explored through a visual examination of various key revolutionary sites and their current use or disuse. In particular, she focuses upon what are now, in a sense, empty signifiers: the vacant Plaza de la Revolución, the Capitolio, and the steps of the University, looking at their role in the assembly of the revolutionary imaginary.
Her analysis of the 'death' of these spaces led her to question the role of vallas (billboards) played in the construction of 'the public'. In so doing, Kristina raises critically important questions: Has the repetition of revolutionary slogans, unchanged from the 60s, lost the ability to communicate with the public? Does a unified Cuban public exist? Are there new messages that could incite a (re)unification of the public? Kristina has based her project around the critically important idea that the liberation of language within public space(s) is indispensible in inciting discussion and reflection about the status quo.

Andrew Feinberg
“Cuban Musical Nationalism in the 19th Century”

Andrew's work in Cuba consisted of two primary components: first, a survey of the history of Cuban music; and second, the performance of Cuban songs on guitar and tres. After exploring more than two centuries of Cuban music, Andrew elected to focus upon the role played by 19th Cuban music and musicians in molding a distinct Cuban national identity. While the Cuban wars of Independence were being organized and fought, Cuban musicians and composers were constructing bodies of work that were fundamental in the definition of Cuban music of the revolutionary era into the early years of the Republic. Andrew’s essay demonstrates the role that the composers Cervantes, Samuel, White, and others had in the development of Cuban nationalism. He traces out the connections and distinctions between Cuban composers and their counterparts in Europe (whose work, as well, played into national constructions), the direct contributions some made to the cause of the revolution, and the influence of their work in the popular music of the following decades.
The second part of Andrew's project involved the performance of Cuban music, using Cuban instruments. Together with his tutor, he performed on guitar "Ansiedad De Ti" by René Touzet, and "Y Tú, Qué Has Hecho?" by Eusebio Delfín. And very much on his own initiative, Andrew located and acquired a Cuban tres, gave himself a quick, self-directed and become proficient enough to perform exceedingly well on this instrument as part of the public presentation of his work.

Hanna Grieb
“Playing with Echoes: Women (Re)imagine the Special Period”

The Special Period prompted a shift in the focus of Cuban women's literature due to the inconceivable way sociopolitical developments rapidly changed their lives. Writers that experienced this dark era came to know a different Cuba, a Cuba that suffered a painful and dramatic change since the days of their youth. Hanna's intensive examination of literature incited by this traumatic period formed the basis of a composite work that includes several analytical essays and fiction narratives.
Hanna channeled most intensive efforts into the examination of Mirta Yáñez's most recent novel," Sangra por la herida" (2010). Within this complex novel she sensitively unravels the resonant voices of a large cast of habaneros, who reflect upon los años duros of their past and present. In an entirely related context, she conducted an interview with a writer and economist Josefina de Diego, exactly of the new generation of woman writers, entitled “Mis recuerdos son como un rumor que me acompaña siempre.” Throughout their discussion, Diego reflects upon the creative force yielded by remembrance and recognizes her work as “pequeños testimonios de esta cotidianidad.” The finished interview has been accepted for publication by one of the most important journals dealing with Cuban culture.
Woven into her work, Hanna endeavored to meditate upon the ravages of recent history in her own fiction. In these short narratives, she considered the ways in which the Special Period directly and indirectly impacts the lives of those around her. Her literary investigation enhanced her understanding of the way a writer can wield literature as a transgressive instrument to inspect, reflect, and complicate popular histories embedded within society.

Robert J. Sakai
“Las Habanas”

“Las Habanas” is a series of satirical advertisements for Havana that uses images and text from guidebooks, interviews, and historical materials to compare a Havana created for and by tourists to a Havana more commonly lived. (La Habana profunda). “Las Habanas” emerged from R.J.'s desire to provoke a wide range of people to think about tourism and the production of cultural images in a useful, unconventional and accessible way through the use of art and graphic design.

RJ's graphic designs emerged from his three months of field study, undertaken almost entirely in Old Havana, the area reconstructed by the revolution specifically as the city's central site for tourism and tourist exploration. In his study, RJ situated himself in a sense as a participant observer: he understood himself as a foreigner, studying foreigners. He haunted Old Havana, and developed conversational relationships with Cubans whose work involved servicing foreigners in one way or another-specifically, the photographer who takes pictures of tourists on the steps of the capitol building (as had his father before him, using their old cameras); an artist who sold his work daily to tourists in an artist's market, and an old woman whose job it was to sweep clean one of the beautiful plazas that tourists so admire in Old Havana. RJ's photographs document well the work of these individuals, as well as the complex and sometimes ironic interactions between tourists, what they expect to see, and what they do see.
RJ's project speaks not simply to Cuban realities: rather, he raises critical and difficult questions for any society or country needing or wanting to encourage foreign tourism, and makes a valuable and unique contribution to an emerging rich literature on tourism and tourists.

Jaffer Abid
“From Enthusiasm to Despair: Intellectuals and Cultural Policy in the First Decade of the Cuban Revolution”

Jaffer's project centered upon an examination of the role and position of intellectuals in Cuba between the years 1959-1971. Through the decade of the sixties and into the first years of the seventies, Jaffer identifies three moments that defined the location of intellectuals in the new Cuban society. The first was Fidel's famous speech “Words to Intellectuals,” which set the parameters for cultural policy in the revolution. His phrase “Within the revolution everything, against the revolution nothing” began to give form to the idea of what was permissible in the revolution and asked intellectuals to work for it. The second important moment Jaffer cites, was Ernesto Che Guevara's essay “Socialism and Man in Cuba.” This piece problematized the question of the role of the first generation of intellectuals in revolutionary Cuba: his argument here was that intellectuals of this generation who were committed to the revolution could not be true revolutionaries. Here, Che complicated questions concerning this generation, asserting that “we cannot graft pears out of elm trees.” Jaffer locates the third and final moment, which brought an end to the expansive and romantic conception many intellectuals held in the first decade of the revolution as the 1971 Congress on Culture and Education. This disastrous moment strangled intellectuals’ cultural freedom and brought about the next phase of intellectual life in Cuba: the Grey Years.

Katherine Kaity
“Seguimos”

Kathy's work on theatre in Cuba grew out of her study during previous semesters dealing with the presence of Greek myths in Cuban plays (here, she focused in particular upon "Night of the Assassins" by Triana and "Electra Garrigó" by Piñera). She came to Cuba with the intention of continuing this exploration: she was and is fascinated by the use of ancient and recognizable story models, and how adapting them to contemporary stages can alter meanings and create new truths for an audience.
During her time in Cuba she broadened her study to incorporate Greek and Afro-Cuban mythology. Eugenio Hernandez Espinoza's "María Antonia" became a fixture of her work. She was able to attend rehearsals of the show's revival in Havana, 44 years after its original premier. Her relationship with "María Antonia" developed into one that was both academic and personal-- she came to appreciate the historical context and language of the play and simultaneously, to recall her own quiet participation in the rehearsal process as a spectator and documenter.
Her final project, then, encompassed these relationships: she produced a visual essay which documented the play as both a revival of historical and societal importance and, at the same time, is itself a process study handled by Teatro Caribeño de Cuba with love and care.

Rebecca Hanssens-Reed
“The Cuban narrative of 1960-1980: The Development of the Revolutionary Conscience”

Rebecca's project focused upon the threads of change in continuity in Cuban literature in the twenty years after the triumph of the revolution: the historical and euphoric vision of the future in the sixties, and the subsequent rupture represented by the 1970's Grey Period. What remains constant through this twenty years, Rebecca argued, was the writers’ intent to give testimony, to situate their writing in relation to the revolution, however they were defining it. If the literature of the 60s focused upon critical realism and most particularly the conflictive and interactive relationship between the personal and the course of the Revolution, in Grey Period, writers molded their work around socialist realism with flat or little interest in exploring language and complex character development. She traces these threads, in their continuity and disruption through a series of novels, short stories, and plays that were published during these two decades, including: Jesus Diaz' Los años duros; Eduardo Heras Leon's Acero; Edmundo Desnoes' Aqui me pongo; Miguel Cossio's Sacario and Norberto Fuentes' Condenados del condado.

Lia Campos
“José Martí and the Revolution: a Look Inside the World and Imagination of Cuban Children”

Lia's project involved an attempt to understand the values communicated to children, and their understanding of these values, in post revolutionary Cuban society. She sought to explore this particularly in the age group of 7 years old to 12 years old. Lia undertook to examine this problematic in a variety of contexts. Her central arena of study was children's theatre but she gradually expanded her search for subjects to include children outside the specific context of theatre, and to examine a range of literature produced for consumption by children. As she interviewed children and adults who worked with children (particularly in theatre), she came to understand that perhaps the most useful way to get at the idea of values was to look first at the messenger.
In the case of Cuba, she identified Jose Marti, Cuba's National hero, who played the central role as unifier during Cuba struggle for independence from Spain, as perhaps her most useful signifier. In contemporary Cuba, she argues, Marti serves as the channeler for values which the Cuban revolution wants to communicate to children: above all, a belief in the centrality and importance of patriotism and related to this, self-sacrifice, community, unity, and anti-materialism. Cuban children are exposed to Marti as a historical figure and in his writings in children's theatre, but as well, in multiple other contexts: schools, film and literature.
Lia’s final essay focuses upon the messages conveyed through the figure of Marti, and the contexts in which this happens: as a result, she has produced a rich, contextualized study of the distinctive nature of the values the revolution has sought to communicate to children.

Dorothy Goldberger
“ por lo menos, las mujeres jóvenes no están ‘perdidas’”

In her field study project, Dot wanted to understand the radical differences between the lives of young women, compared to the preceding generations of women in Havana today. As a result of the Special Period, she argues, these women were born or grew up in the midst of severe economic and social instability. They now inhabit spaces and roles similar to their mothers, aunts and grandmothers, but in a new age and context. In her study, she finds that while these young women may share commonalities in their daily lives, they can have drastically different experiences from each other.

In a series of in-depth interviews with five young women ranging in ages from 14 to 26, and four Cuban authorities whose work is on gender and women, Dot explores, in their environments, the realities of the lives of these young women. Based on her interactions with them, she photographed and created with them a series of images that helped to represent aspects of their daily lives. Through this visual representation and a brief commentary involving the tentative conclusions she has drawn about their lives, she sought to offer insight into the experiences of young cubanas as they navigate their roles as women in their culture and society.

Danielle Cattan
“Fusion of Realities: A Collaboration with Cuban Female Artists”

Danielle’s project centered around an exploration of Cuban female artists’ experiences. Together with these artists, she created a collaborative mixed media piece about their joint experiences as women and as artists. Vitally connected to this, a key aspect of her project concerned breaking down the wall between subject and photographer. This seemed particularly important to Danielle at this moment in Cuba given her observation that so many current (and particularly tourist) images of women in Cuba portrayed them in an exotified and objectified fashion.

In the course of their collaborative production of joint canvasses and photographs, Danielle identified one seemingly key theme that emerged: the question whether one can be a productive female artist and remain on the island. She understood how anxiety laden this question was for her collaborators, and how the fact that all had chosen to stay, was reflected in the work they accomplished together.

Barbara DaSilva
“Sprouting Survival, Creating Community? The Socio-Political and Organizational Relations within Urban Agriculture in Havana”

Urban agriculture became a relevant alternative in Cuba during the acute food crisis that resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the sudden loss of a secure market for food and agricultural inputs. Initiated as a strategy of survival by the population, the activities of urban agriculture have contributed, although modestly, to the availability of food at a local level, demonstrating a growing capacity of grassroots, community and family-based organizing in the solution to their problems. Today, as part of a governmental program that functions at national, provincial, municipal, and local levels, Urban Agriculture provides a fertile ground for the exploration of changes in the agricultural and economic priorities of the country, in the revolutionary discourses, in political-administrative organizing as well as in relations between government institutions, NGOs (both national and international), community groups and residents.

This study attempts to examine these transformations and socio-political organizational relations that are manifested in various urban agriculture spaces in the city of Havana, where the study was conducted. Through theoretical and statistical research, visits and interviews with agricultural producers in the city, along with participation in relevant events, Barbara was able to explore the varied and transitive relations of power and the new role of the local community in the development of Urban Agriculture in the last twenty years. The final objective of this paper is to begin to examine the possible applicability of similar community projects on urban agriculture in selected communities in Brazil.

Oskar Peacock
“Crossing Margins”

Oskar's field study project involved the filming and production of a visual document centered upon an exploration of individuals or groups of individuals in three communities that have developed, out of their own volition, along the margins of the cultural, philosophical, and economic parameters of the revolution. His film attempts to explore these individuals and communities to get at a concrete personification of the nature and scope of these transgressed boundaries. He observed, carried out interviews with, and filmed his three subjects in individual chapters: first, Samantha, the star of the drag queen show held weekly in the Cabaret de las Estrellas in the Havana district of Lawton; second, Yanel Lorretta, a transsexual woman; and third, residents of the Cuban-Haitian community who, beginning in the 1990s Special Period settled, and indeed created an “illegal” community in, La Piedra, a shanty town on the outskirts of the Havana district of San Franscico de Paula. The chapters look at the history of each individual/community, and seek to get at the fraught nature of living on the boundaries of the acceptable, vis-à-vis the larger society and the state.

Angela DiBattiste
“Our guys in Havana: Ten Years of Hampshire College in Cuba”

Angela's project involved laying the foundations for an oral history of the 10-year old exchange program between Hampshire College and the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC), particularly as it has reflected itself in a complex and rich meshing and collision of cultures at every level and in every context. While Angela interviewed a selection of the tutors who have, over the years, been involved in the project, as well as its administrators and the heads of the households in which students have lived, her focus, in this initial stage of her project, centered on the currently participating students. She carried on interviews with these students (who number, this year, thirteen,) at two moments of their stay in Cuba, in order to get at the dynamics of their experiences, and in particular, to get at the ways in which their perceptions of themselves in Cuba, and of Cuban society.

 

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