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Clemens Greiner & Hernández, Henry Eric (dir.), Pan Fresco: Textos críticos en torno al arte cubano

Leiden, Almenara, 2019
Joséphine Foucher
p. 199-202
Référence(s) :
Clemens Greiner & Hernández, Henry Eric (dir.), Pan Fresco: Textos críticos en torno al arte cubano, Leiden, Almenara, 2019, 352 p.

Texte intégral

1Since Miguel Díaz-Canel’s inauguration as President of Cuba in April 2018, the cultural field has been shaken by the introduction of Decree 349, a law that requires artists to seek authorisation from the Ministry of Culture to conduct any form of artistic activity. The text’s vague language around what constitutes unauthorized content such as “the use of patriotic symbols that contravene current legislation” (Article 3a) grants cultural authorities extensive censorship power. This decree epitomizes the government’s omnipresent role in defining the contours of artistic legitimacy and discrediting independent artists who trained outside of State institutions. Thanks to improved access to internet and social media, a campaign to contest the law’s repressive measures gained momentum and materialised into a movement known as the San Isidro Movement. It consists of an eclectic group of artists, academics, and activists united in a wider struggle for freedom in the country. The group has been actively working since 2018 to shed light on issues that go beyond artistic freedom such as police violence or systemic racism and instilling democratic practices through art. In November 2020, a hunger strike led by several of the group’s founding members served as a catalyst for an unprecedented protest in front of the Ministry of Culture as hundreds of state-sanctioned and independent cultural actors gathered to demand more rights and freedoms in the country. Among those present were many of the writers and artists who contributed to the essays that make up Pan Fresco: Textos críticos en torno al arte cubano: a seminal text for understanding the articulation between political agency and contemporary art in Cuba today.

2Published in July 2019 and edited by Clemens Greiner and Henry Eric Hernández, Pan Fresco is an assemblage of thirteen essays written by Cuban art critics, academics, curators and artists who critically assess the state of Cuban art. The writings stem from a wide range of disciplines (art history, sociology, political science, visual and cultural studies) and locations (Cuba, Europe, Latin America, U.S.). This inter-generational, analytical and poetic conversation includes authors who use their craft for political action. For example, Abel González Fernandez, who opens the book with an essay on the Cuban avant-garde, directed a series of short documentaries, Sin 349, profiling artists and curators involved in the campaign against Decree 349. In addition, Yanelys Núñez Leyva, who contributes to the book’s final chapter on the impact of emerging public art practicies, is a founding member of the San Isidro Movement with artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. In 2016; they launched the Museum of Dissidence— an online platform aimed at celebrating dissident figures in Cuban history—and the Bienal 00 in May 2018—the country’s first alternative biennale organised outside of State institutions. Today, Otero Alcántara is a key figure of the recent movement.

3The book aims to generate a non-exhaustive conversation around Cuban art as it relates to themes of diaspora, censorship, authoritarianism and activism in order to rethink generalising and stereotyping notions of Cuban art production. The book was realised in conjunction with the collective exhibit Otro amanecer en el tropico in 2018 at the Reinbeckhallen gallery in Berlin, a project that sdisplayed the works of independent Cuban artists who cannot exhibit their œuvres inside the country.

4The collection of essays reads like a carefully curated collage in which the writings creatively complement one another, provide texture and depth, leading to layered piece of work. The first three chapters set the tone by focusing on the tension between vanguard art practices and the construction of the Revolutionary Nation State. Anaeli Ibarra argues that the regime’s fomentation of a totalising national identity around “the worker” constructed difference as something to obliterate, an enemy or dissident that menaced the revolutionary project. Within the boundaries of this national narrative built around an “us vs. them” binary, alternative art practices seeking to offer possibilities beyond that rhetoric were effaced. In her piece, Anamely Ramos discusses Latin-American conceptualism through the decolonial lens of respected art critic and curator, Gerardo Mosquera. His presence in several of the essays attests to the authors’ project of reconfiguring the narrative around Cuban cultural production by recentering critics and artists who are poised at the margins of the Revolutionary cultural canons. By focusing on the works of critical and independent artists such as Tania Bruguera and Los Carpinteros, the authors excavate cultural events and artworks omitted from the historical narrative written by the State; an archival thread weaves the essays together.

5In the fourth chapter, Celia Irina González discusses the infiltration of Cuba’s paternalistic system into familial relationships. She reviews the works of mixed-media artists, such as Renier Quer, who filmed his father—an active militant of the Cuban Communist Party at the onset of the revolution—while he slept. Through his lens, he contemplates another father-artist relationship in unconsciousness, free of the intergenerational rift, the patriarchal gaze and revolutionary duties. Meanwhile, Denny Matos’ political commentary examines how aesthetic trends corrolate to the Revolution’s various “moments”. Today’s climate of “post-raulism” and “post-communism” translates into artistic explorations that question a regime trying to cover the holes of its worn-down communist body with capitalist patches, what he calls the “social Frankeinstein” (136). This political patchwork manifests itself through an aesthetical focus on fragments, biological material and altered bodies, such as Carlos Martiel’s Hijo Prodigo (2013), where the performance artist pierced his skin with the medals awarded to his father by the Cuban State, or Fabian Peña’s Frozen Flight (2008), a Cuban flag composed of insect wings, nylon string and fishing nets.

6Henry Eric Hernández, the book’s co-editor and artist, discusses the complex affair between Cuba and the outside. He traces the historically romantic relationship that certain Western intellectuals have developed with the idealised Cuban Revolution, sustaining a silence around the regime’s authoritarian and censoring practices. Hernández’s piece is a reminder of government’s effective soft power in maintaining leftist allies who help paint a one-sided image of the Revolution, bolstering the regime’s symbolic capital, both regionally and internationally. Mailyn Machado’s political analysis traces how the U.S’s decades-long “people-to-people” program (shut down by the Trump administration in June 2019) has rendered the “cultural tourist” from the U.S. an important economic actor in helping non-institutionalised artists thrive in the island’s emerging independent art markets.

7Meanwhile, Orlando Hernández offers a discerning exposé of his disenchantment with contemporary art. He scrutinises the navel-gazing jargon of artists and critiques, the lack of cultural resistance to international pressures, and artists appropriating symbols and aesthetics from indigenous and Afro-American cultures to fill the “symbolic and spiritual void of the cultural elites”(236) without properly crediting the original works. In chapter eleven, Suset Sánchez Sánchez sheds light on pioneering exhibits that addressed racial identity and representation in a country where Fidel Castro famously declared that socialism would eradicate racism; officialising decades of silence around racial discrimination. The exhibits Queloides part 1 and 2, inaugurated in the 1990s, paved the way for a generation of Afro-Cuban artists coming to terms with the revolutionary project’s failed promise of equality and finding agency to address systemic racism.

8Pan Fresco reads like an insider conversation between lovers, critics, intellectuals and actors of the Cuban art sector. It provides unique bottom-up reflections on the complex relationship between artists and the State, and offers a glimpse into the multiplicity of voices within the art sector. Voices that have recently grown louder and more emboldened to break through the self-censorship that has subdued the art community for decades in the country. More, it testifies to the momentum of a transnational solidarity movement against the government’s repressive measures, as allies living outside of Cuba use their voice and influence to highlight the work of artists-activists inside the country. Translating this book into English and French will help disseminate these informed perspectives that greatly contribute to an insightful, de-centred, plural and nuanced (re)presentation of Cuban cultural production.

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Joséphine Foucher, « Clemens Greiner & Hernández, Henry Eric (dir.), Pan Fresco: Textos críticos en torno al arte cubano »Cahiers des Amériques latines, 93 | 2020, 199-202.

Référence électronique

Joséphine Foucher, « Clemens Greiner & Hernández, Henry Eric (dir.), Pan Fresco: Textos críticos en torno al arte cubano »Cahiers des Amériques latines [En ligne], 93 | 2020, mis en ligne le 10 mars 2021, consulté le 21 avril 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Joséphine Foucher

PhD Candidate, Department of SociologySchool of Social and Political Science

University of Edinburgh

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