The following are abstracts of students' projects from the Hampshire in Cuba Exchange Program in spring 2008:
The Cuban Casa de Cultura: Ni se compra ni se vende
During my time in Cuba, I investigated the Casa de Cultura, a state-run institution that organizes activities for the production and appreciation of art. In my concluding analysis I tried to do three things: 1) provide a map of the structure and principles of the Casa (i.e. the activities they put on, the coordinators and their responsibilities, the mission statement, and levels of autonomy in the individual Casas); 2) look at how the Casa is located—ideologically as well as in practice—in the network of other commercial and state-run spaces that pertain to art and culture; and 3) explain how the Casa acts as a government institution, implementing the “cultural project” of the state. Implied in the last objective is the question: What is the agenda of the state in this volatile post-Fidel era?
It begins to become clear that the already-existing gray areas of Socialism have begun to expand. The market and the state coexist like never before. And this is the new environment in which art and culture and their respective institutions are monitored and manipulated. Discussed in the paper are the ways in which the state-run aspects of the Casa cause problematic elements (i.e. restrictions on content). But the general conclusion is that the Casa provides a refreshing display of the benefits of socialism in a society where these values are rapidly being replaced with those of the dominant world. With its efforts to safeguard tradition, bring together the community, educate the youth, and provide resources to amateur artists, the Casa de Cultura is a model for any aspiring non-profit art institution.
Emma J. Brewster
Taste of a Nation: National Identity Through Food-Based Memory
Cuando vine a Cuba, quería estudiar como se relaciona la comida y la identidad. Lo que he encontrado es una conexión y un proyecto demasiado grande para acometer en toda su complejidad en un semestre. Por eso, mi proyecto aquí es el principio de un trabajo más grande. Aquí hay unas viñetas que hablan sobre un plato de comida especifica. Con esta prueba se puede empezar a entender como los cubanos usan la comida para explicar su comprensión del mundo, y como la comida refleja las relaciones entre Cuba y el resto del mundo. Unas comidas, como el ajiaco, representan no sola una tradición, sino que sirven como metáfora para la mezcla de raíces de que ha desarrollado ‘una cubanidad,’ y otras, como el queso, iluminan la situación compleja de la economía diaria en el país. Juntos mis viñetas tratan de temas de identidad, salud, globalización y cambio. Las impresiones de Cuba que está presentado aquí viene de mis conversaciones, entrevistas y observaciones y también la literatura como revistas, libros de cocina y otros artículos. Ojala que presente un dibujo que refleja la situación verdadera aquí con respeto a las palabras y visiones de mis informantes, maestros, y amigos.
More than anything else, I believe today that the work I’ve done in Cuba was an investigation. Drawing on ethnographic techniques, I’ve put together a contemporary look at what I call the “Cuban social practice art scene.” Social practice art is defined in the realm of visual arts but utilizes art in social manifestations, generally in order to create a dialogue or call attention to something that the artists deemed as problematic or in need of change or discussion. More often than not, this work operates with specific pre-determined ethics/methodologies and is concerned with the direct relationships that are fostered with its audience. During my time here, I’ve looked at past and present groups (the majority of this work takes place inside of a collective) working in this socially minded vein, and have moved to understand both their objectives, as well as obras. This dual focus has taught me about the groups themselves, as well as the specific socius that these artists work within and how their work becomes a reflection/projection of the past, future, and present.
Black Expressions covers the various artist who work around theme of race and marginalization in Cuba. Black Expression creates a synthesis of the complexities of Afro-Cuban identity in Cuba. The history of slavery has created similar experiences of Blackness across the Atlantic. The expressions of the artist do not only address issues of racism that still exist in Cuba, they also suggest the need to create a more comprehensive understanding of Cuban identity.
Relief Printmaking in Cuba
Estas obras de xilografía que hice en Cuba constituyen un proyecto relacionado con la trascendencia de mi estilo de arte fuera de mi agradable vida creative en Los Estados Unidos. Aprendí muchas maneras diferentes en que se pueden combinar procesos y capas de imágenes. Algunos grabados tienen la influencia del contexto en que viví rodeado de cosas orgánicas nuevas. Sin embargo, hay muchas mezclas de realidad y de sueños y el punto de vista surrealista que aprecié en mi entorno natural cada día. En general estuve influido por el espectáculo de los detalles de la naturaleza y traté de trasladarlos de manera simbólica e idealizada. Muchas de las imágenes están abiertas a la interpretación del público.
The project of studying music in Cuba has been the most recent step in the ongoing project of my wondering why I do what I do and, more specifically, why I play what I play. A large extent of my project over this time has been working on the physical and mental techniques of finding what you want to say with sound and, then, communicating it. This goes for verbal communication, as well as music.
My study of Cuban music itself has centered on rhythm. I have been seeing the contrast of the rhythms that live in the bodies of Cubans, versus the rhythms that are felt equally as unconsciously by people who have grown up in the U.S. I feel as though I have come to an understanding about the different ways in which our music can be felt.
Through the process of looking at music that I don’t fully understand, the types of music that I do understand have come more into the spotlight. I have begun combining music from different parts of my life, which I have kept separate until now. This type of realization is more valuable than information.
This project has included countless late hours of study and practice on harmony. However, I mean harmony less in terms of the ‘end-all, correct method,' but more in terms of learning the character of different colors that can be created. I speak of harmony in the way that the most simple and beautiful folk song may have one or two chords. The fact that it doesn’t have much ‘harmonic variation’ is not important. If those chords were able to find a powerful color, then the infinite pool of ‘harmony’ was used well. Good harmony is not necessarily complicated chords. Good harmony is the realization of what feelings can be evoked by different combinations of sound.
I have selected four pieces that I feel best exhibit the collaboration of topics I have been working with: three original pieces and one by John Coltrane (Naima). While they have a wide range stylistically, they also draw from different harmonic techniques of creating color. The two foundational components that are present in all music are pitch and rhythm. The workings of this three-month project have expanded my understanding of these two concepts tremendously. This has been a small and powerful segment of the continuing path.
In a country where multiple generations often live in one home, often even sharing one bedroom, where privacy is as hard to find as privatization and a crisis in material resources means few new houses are built, where numerous domestic responsibilities often demand the need for the cooperation of numerous family members, how does one distinguish the individual from the mass?
In a country where everyone seems to participate in a national sense of Cubanidad, where does one look for differences? One of the most pronounced differences I have found is that of gender. The responsibilities in the lives of Cuban women are distinct, as are their experiences. Though the state sought to socialize women’s work with the triumph of the revolution (drawing them out of the domestic sphere and into the national labor force) the perseverance of gender norms and distinctions between men’s and women’s work generate very different manners of self-identification within the collective whole.
Furthermore, since the special period, racial, and economic disparities have become ever more visible, so that the Cuba lived by one is not the Cuba lived by all. Still, there exists a Cuba that defines the daily lives of its people and a Cuba in which the Cubans define themselves.
With this project I intend to explore, through narrative photos and text, variations of self-identification in Cuban women. The project is composed of the stories, histories, and points of view of three women, all of different ages, races, and locations within La Habana. Since generational influence is a strong force, due to the close quarters in which people tend to live, I have decided to focus this project on the interacting identities of mothers and daughters.
Different generations of Cubans often have different relationships to the state and to their statehood. A woman who grew up in the eighties or nineties, at a time of crisis, may see her Cubanidad as different from that of a mother or grandmother who experienced her youth in the sixties, at the start of the revolution. Yet their views and experiences may intermingle and inform one other. The narratives employ the words and opinions of the women documented to demonstrate their individual relationship to Cuba and to themselves.
(Please view the PDF of this abstract here.)
Cuban Children’s Literature as a Tool to Preserve Cuban Identity
I found that socialist ideals were present in Cuban children’s literature, but not as “Dull and Dogmatic” as author Isabel Schon had suggested. With contemporary Cuban literature there is skillful use of intertexualization, and realistic depiction of Cuban life. The literature that I had access to was certainly among the best examples, but this study focused on what Cuba was capable of producing. In the 70s was an explosion of poetic, beautiful writing and the 80s were a time with slightly more depth, but the 90s knocked down walls and allowed Cuban children’s literature to blossom to the fullest extent. With the Soviet Union gone, so was the value of Cuban resources as well as availability of oil. Cuban citizens struggled to obtain food, and neuropathy from malnutrition became a new problem on the island. Additionally there was no petrol for transportation and power outages averaged as long as 17 hours a day. During a time where paper and ink were largely unavailable, the largest gains since the Revolution were made in children’s literature. Progress that was made during that period is maintained in contemporary childern's literature.
Somos mujeres: luchando, pinchando--¿Entiende hermano? La presencia femenina en el Hip-Hop cubano
Mi proyecto es sobre las mujeres en el Hip-Hop cubano, específicamente, en el Hip-Hop underground. En el mes de marzo, descubrí el proyecto Alzar la Voz, que agrupa a ocho mujeres raperas, que dicen su poesía en varios espacios de La Habana, intentando así preservar la “voz” de la mujer en el Hip-Hop. Este proyecto me permitió ir a conciertos y fiestas para examinar la vida y estilo de estas raperas y descubrir a través de entrevistas a cinco de ellas, su lucha dentro y afuera del Hip-Hop. Dentro del movimiento hip-hop, las mujeres tienen que luchar mucho para lograr su promoción y espacios para rapear, y para que se reconozca su calidad en la tarima, muchas veces igual o superior que la de los hombres raperos. Con sus canciones demuestran a los hombres que no tienen que usar sus cuerpos para vender su música, como lo hacen muchas raperas en Los Estados Unidos. En la escena social y doméstica, las mujeres raperas tienen que luchar no solo como mujeres, sino como negras. ¿Qué significa ser mujer negra en Cuba, un país donde se promueve la unidad y lo cubano, y se desestimula el orgullo de ser negra; a pesar de fomentar el ideal de la mulata como patrón de belleza para hombres y mujeres tanto blancos como negros? Estas mujeres, con sus canciones, rechazan los ideales de belleza estereotipados, luchan por ser dueñas de sus cuerpos, de su pelo, y de sus mentes, y decir a otras mujeres que se unan a su lucha. También investigué el futuro del Hip-Hop en Cuba, y la posibilidad de una mayor audiencia fuera de esta comunidad que permitiera eliminar la indiferencia del público hacia sus canciones y cultura para de esta forma entablar un diálogo que vaya más allá de los ideales nacionalistas, lo cual sería beneficioso no solo para el futuro del Hip-Hop, sino también para el futuro de la nación cubana.
How can dance simultaneously be a visualization of gender norms while at the same time also be a furthering of those stereotypes? My work in Cuba is about dance and gender, specifically the parallels between dance as performance and gender as performance, and how one kind of performance can reveal another. Through interviews and ethnographic fieldwork, I aim and hope to open up discussion and understand multiple ideas and opinions about (in)equality in gender through the lens of popular Cuban social dance. I use the term popular Cuban social dances to define non-ritual partner dances that are done for fun and/or as a social activity. The dances I specifically focus on are rumba and Cuban style salsa, called casino. Although they are different dances with their own histories, they are both partner dances constructed of a man and a woman, and additionally, casino often borrows rumba steps in improvisation. In both of these dance forms, there are steps that are specific to men and ones specific to women. Therefore, through recognizing differences between men and women in the physical act of dancing, I’m interested in looking at these differences from a more sociological point of view of preconceived and normalized perceptions of gender and gender roles.
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