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Cuba’s Archive of Cultural Imagination: Filling the Voids

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Organizer: María Isabel Alfonso

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A significant part of Cuba’s literary and cultural productions from the first decades of the Revolution challenged the aesthetics favored by the establishment in many different ways, and the construction of a comprehensive archive that accounts for these and other important artifacts remains a pending task within the field of Cuban cultural studies. Due to either state censorship or a mere lack of interest from Cuba’s official institutions—attitudes that, all in all, have shaped the totalitarian nature of the system—there remains an unattended corpus of works that merits scrutiny and recognition, as do the narratives of exclusion that inform such a paradigm. Works resulting from the dynamics between countries from the Eastern socialist bloc and Cuba, from the demonization of homosexuality, and from the public debates around experimentation and commitment that served as an attempt to instrumentalize socialist realism, among others, make up part of the void.

Additional historical gaps abound. For instance, scholars have acknowledged that the so-called quinquenio gris, or five “gray years,” a period of censorship in the early 70s that followed the Padilla case, in which the state condemned to ostracism literary works that diverged from the epic aesthetics of the Revolution, covers in fact a length of time stretching well into the 80s. Moreover, despite the relative flexibility that came with the post-Soviet era in the 90s and the government reforms of the early 2000s, contemporary intellectuals and artists—in the areas of film and visual arts in particular—are being ridiculed on state-controlled television and face arbitrary detentions and even jail time due to the defying nature of their works. Thus, the government’s recent formulation and arbitrary implementation of draconian decrees and laws based on ideology and moral claims compels us to think about political and aesthetic marginalization on the island nation’s cultural field as a continuum, rather than as an isolated event from the past. In addition, the transnational work of those who dissent and either leave on their own will or are forced into exile is silenced by the state’s official narrative.

As the latter comes up with its own justification for the erasure, or simply fails to acknowledge the existence of the former, we contend that, from a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective, historicizing the ways in which the dialectics of contestation and exclusion have become systemic is a necessary first step in accounting for the voids in the archives of Cuba’s cultural imagination.

In an attempt to fill the gaps of an incomplete archive, this seminar invites paper submissions exploring relevant issues in any of the above themes and periods.

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