Cuba Represent! Cuban Arts, State Power and the Making of New Revolutionary Cultures

Posted on Oct 4, 2006 in Books
Cuba Represent! Cuban Arts, State Power and the Making of New Revolutionary Cultures

Book description:

In Cuba something curious has happened over the past fifteen years. The government has allowed vocal criticism of its policies to be expressed within the arts. Filmmakers, rappers, and visual and performance artists have addressed sensitive issues including bureaucracy, racial and gender discrimination, emigration, and alienation. How can this vibrant body of work be reconciled with the standard representations of a repressive, authoritarian cultural apparatus? In Cuba Represent! Sujatha Fernandes—a scholar and musician who has performed in Cuba—answers that question.

Combining textual analyses of films, rap songs, and visual artworks; ethnographic material collected in Cuba; and insights into the nation’s history and political economy, Fernandes details the new forms of engagement with official institutions that have opened up as a result of changing relationships between state and society in the post-Soviet period. She demonstrates that in a moment of extreme hardship and uncertainty, the Cuban state has moved to a more permeable model of power. Artists and other members of the public are collaborating with government actors to partially incorporate critical cultural expressions into official discourse. The Cuban leadership has come to recognize the benefits of supporting artists: rappers offer a link to increasingly frustrated black youth in Cuba; visual artists are an important source of international prestige and hard currency; and films help unify Cubans through community discourse about the nation. Cuba Represent! reveals that part of the socialist government’s resilience stems from its ability to absorb oppositional ideas and values.

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Endorsements:

“A provocative look into Cuba’s cultural production. Those who want to understand how the Cuban government managed to negotiate the crisis of the 1990s should read this book.”—Alejandro de la Fuente, author of A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba

“As a work that comes out of the discipline of political science, Cuba Represent! is extremely brave and original. Sujatha Fernandes manages to offer a language that is truly interdisciplinary, moving successfully across the boundaries of the social sciences and the humanities.”—Ruth Behar, author of Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story

“Sujatha Fernandes presents an excellent overview of expressive culture in revolutionary Cuba of the 1990s and beyond, offering provocative insights into the uses of art as a form of political protest and of individual expression. Her focus on various media (music, film, visual art) and her detailed ethnographic work allow her to document how topics such as gender, race, and politics surface constantly in Cuban art. Fernandes has demonstrated beyond any doubt the importance of culture as a space for progressive social discourse.”—Robin D. Moore, author of Music and Revolution: Cultural Change in Socialist Cuba

Reviews:

“Fernandes has written a ground-breaking book about the relationship between the Cuban state and the Cuban cultural scene rooted in its present flexiblity, porousness and dynamism, capturing the complexities and contradictions held within the revolutionary project and spilling out at its edges. . . . It’s an empathetic book that will interest anyone wondering why Cuban music has been so influential in
world music cultures, never mind salsa and jazz.”
—Jan Fairley, Popular Music

“Fernandes’s work is a model for ethnographic-based and interdisciplinary approaches to expressive culture.”—David F. García, Ethnomusicology

“[E]ngrossing. . . . [Fernandes] has a wonderful grasp of how people live on the streets of Havana, of the texture of their lives, of their speech and their sense of humor. She brings alive, beautifully, the feeling of living in the chaos that is Cuba, something that few other studies have managed to do.”—Carollee Bengelsdorf, Latin American Perspectives

Cuba Represent! serves as a great introduction to critical contemporary art in Cuba and some of the ways this art is represented, used and consumed. The amount of data collected is impressive, and serves, to my mind, at least, to suggest any one way a western reader may have of looking at Cuba, art and rebellion will be too simplistic.”—Siall Waterbright, M/C Reviews

“Femandes forces us to rethink time-wom notions of how authoritarian regimes stay in power, and she ably demonstrates that hegemonic and counterhegemonic discourses need not be in conflict but produce dialogue, and in so doing open up new spaces for discussion of previously off-limits subjects.”—Julio César Pino, Journal of Third World Studies

“Unique in its consideration of content and identity together with political and social context in the production of art, the text offers scholars at all levels accessible and fertile ground for working through questions of popular culture, politics, media, race, and gender.”—Denise Milstein, American Journal of Sociology

“In spite of the author’s political science background, [Cuba Represents!] has a refreshing interdisciplinary approach. It is written with great passion and charm, and is another important publication in a limited but growing body of literature documenting and analyzing what is perhaps the most interesting and significant period in Cuba’s recent history, starting in the early ‘90s and continuing to our present day.”—Moshe Morad, E.I.A.L.

“Fernandes writes in an accessible and reader-friendly style. Her own artistic involvement, her love for the arts and for Cuba enrich the text, but do not dim her judgment of the hardship Cuban artists and Cuban people in general have had to endure. Overall, this work is a valuable contribution to the field of cultural and media studies. It gives a new perspective on the hegemonic process influencing the public sphere and (state) ideology in relation to artistic expressions in a post-socialist country. And it tells the story of an authoritarian state breaking with the past to survive.”—Christine Lohmeier, Media, Culture, and Society

“This book is a must-read for anyone interested in Cuban cultural and political life. Fernandes offers impressive and well-researched insights that range from life in the streets to the somewhat behind-the-scenes actions of state actors.”—Kenneth R. Culton, Contemporary Sociology

“[Cuba Represent! is an] important contribution to a better understanding of the pivotal period Cuba is undergoing [and] . . . will remain [a] rich source of information independently from the direction current events in this country might take.”—Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Cuba Represent! Is a stimulating study on how new avenues such as performance and visual arts have addressed complex issues regarding racial and gender discrimination, emigration, and hostility. . . . Fernandes makes an important contribution to the study of Cuban culture, society, and politics of the 20th Century. But more importantly, she explains to readers how all sectors of society in Cuba confront these capitalist pressures placed by the Cuban government. The book is a must-read for any individual interested in these issues that are continuously widespread in Cuban society today.”—Christina Violeta Jones, The Latin Americanist

“Fernandes’ methodology provides a fresh way of understanding the impact of critical art of Cuba’s Special Period. Following Orlando Hernández, her combination of ethnographic method and art criticism seeks to interpret not only the works of art themselves, but also how art publics interact with them and the state.”—Tania Triana, A Contracorriente

“What is unique about this work is the way it focuses on how forms of popular culture . . . relate to Cuba’s socialist ideology and the resilience of the revolutionary state. The book brings together an interesting mix of academic insights and personal perspectives. . . . Cuba Represent! is a fascinating work that focuses on the public sphere in Cuba rather than the state or the charismatic figure of Castro, and in doing so creates a vibrant picture of ordinary life in Cuba that is rarely portrayed in academic works.”—Jay Kerr, Latin American Review of Books

“[A]n intelligent, balanced and very much needed account of the reproduction of power through culture in contemporary Cuba.”—Nora Gamez Torres, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“Fernandes’ book is a focused and illuminating investigation of the inner workings of the hegemonic project in Cuba, and the centrality of the arts in continuing debates over the political direction of the country.”—Lara Greene, The World of Music

“[Fernandes’s] work does an outstanding job of demonstrating the ways in which new concerns are being raised, discussed, incorporated, and co-opted within a Cuban society. While it will certainly be of interest to anyone interested in the dynamics of contemporary Cuban society, her model of overlapping relations between state, society, and artistic endeavor is hardly unique to socialist or post-socialist contexts. As such, this book should be considered by anyone with an interest in the area.”—Joshua Tucker, Social Anthropology

Cuba Represent! makes an important contribution to our understanding of how a surprisingly permeable and flexible state deals with and incorporates criticism. . . .“—Christy Thornton, NACLA Report on the Americas

“[A] truly interdisciplinary volume. . . . The book provides rich ethnographic evidence gathered during nine months of field research over a four-year period.”—Marisabel Almer, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

Cuba Represent! diligently characterizes the relationship between the Cuban state and Cuban filmmakers, rappers, and visual artists as complex and paradoxical, the result of incorporation, interaction, and transnational market forces. In this interdisciplinary work accessible to advanced undergraduate and graduate students interested in contemporary Cuban society and culture, the author successfully accomplishes the task of understanding ‘how hegemony works in a time of crisis.’”—Christina D. Abreu, Cuban Affairs

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