Seeing Things as They Are: Annotating African in Cuban Art


Friday, September 18, 2020, 12:00pm to 2:00pm

This event is virtual, to register click here.

Speaker: Bárbaro Martínez-Ruiz, 2020-2021 Mark Claster Mamolen Fellow at the W. E. B. Du Bois Research Institute and the Afro-Latin American Research Institute, Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard University

The lecture will cover a global debate on Western representations of African and Afro-Cuban art with particular attention to issues such as how aesthetic concepts, museum politics, art display, colonialism, identity practices, and nationalism intersect across a global diaspora. It will explore questions of representation of African art and culture from primary sources and in the context of avant-garde and contemporary art in Cuba. It will also consider the proliferation of African art in the collections of major institutions worldwide and will query the dichotomy between viewing ‘African’ artistic practices in the diaspora as either influenced by the (‘modern') cultures of the West or by traditional (‘primitive') non-Western cultures.

Bárbaro Martínez-Ruiz is the Tanner-Opperman Chair of African Art History in Honor of Roy Sieber at Indiana University. An art historian with expertise in African and Caribbean artistic, visual and religious practices, his work challenges traditional disciplinary boundaries and examines the varied understandings of – and engagement with – ‘art’ and ‘visual culture.’

His books include Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign (Temple University Press, 2013); Faisal Abdu’Allah: On the Art of Dislocation (Atlantic Center of Modern Art Press, 2012); and Art and Emancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and his Worlds (Yale University Press, 2007), for which he received the College Art Association Alfred H. Barr Award.

His project “Caribbean Foundations: African Art and Visual Culture” in the making of Caribbean Art investigates the emergence of African aesthetic and conceptual principles by collecting and analyzing evidence across academic disciplines and linguistic cultures (Spanish, Dutch, French, English). Caribbean Foundations considers a wide range of material, from the first stirrings in the early 16th century of Africans dislocated through the slave trade to the early 20th century, by which time most of the African artistic and cultural expressions were fully developed and firmly rooted throughout the Caribbean world.

The project brings together historic travel narratives and epistles with paintings, prints, maps and other traditional art forms with contemporary work by artists throughout the Caribbean. It traces the development of a spatial and conceptual framework of African artistic practices and how they inform Caribbean artistic traits. Furthermore, it examines the location of the “Afro” Latin American and the Caribbean in the historical and contemporary global visual scene.

Presented in collaboration with Afro-Latin American Research Institute at the Hutchins Center