Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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    Synopsis

    An essay written by the editorial team at the avant-garde periodical Revista de Avance on January 15 1929. The essay clarifies the role of black culture and black cultural traditions in Cuban art. It concerned the recent emergence of an afro-Cuban intelligentsia who prioritized the spiritual improvement of black culture—a group that had been asking for stronger unification between blacks and whites in the hopes of acheiving a more cohesive sense of national artistic identity. The editors summed up the “black question” (which the authors took care to note had become a question in Cuban art and literary discourse rather than a problem) as one with two principal axes. The first was blackness as a generator of culture; the second was blackness as an index of comprehension—but really, the editors stressed, an index of cooperation. Their aims were to prevent the stigmatization and ghettoization of conversations about race, because (they claimed) black artists had been hesitant to incorporate these matters into their work, and white artists have felt they had no right to access the culture or the conversation. The editors note that young Honduran artists, for instance, were evading direct conversations about race and identity and instead exploring materials, as though the question of identity were a matter of homesickness or creolization. The editorial concludes that the voice of the black community is critical to understanding this problem, as this is the population that is experiencing the problem rather than viewing it from a distance.

    Annotations

    In 1929, the editorial team at Revista de Avance consisted of lawyer and journalist Francisco Ichaso, and intellectuals Felix Lizaso, Jorge Manach, and Juan Marinello. Between 1927 and 1929 the editors made a concerted effort to include issues of race and identity in the publication, with articles such as “Land and Population in the Antilles” (1929) and a 1928 questionnaire on “What should Latin American Art be?” [see the ICAA digital archive (doc. no. 1280267)] that provoked many responses related to site and race. The editors considered this issue to be a pressing one, since an alliance with the afrocubanist movement would have amounted to a major consolidation of Cuban avant-garde artistic identity.

     

    The editorial team’s desire to clarify the role of black cultural traditions in avant-garde art was likely a response to the rise of the afrocubanismo movement among the black intelligentsia in Cuba. This movement called for the rediscovery of African heritage, and had a significant impact on Cuban literature, poetry, and painting. Several scholars have also suggested that Reviste de Avance’s decision to integrate afrocubanismo into their guiding principles stemmed from a borader interest among European avant-garde movements in non-European modes of cultural expression. There is thus an air of defensiveness in Revista de Avance’s first few articles on this topic, as the left responded to what they felt was a calcified, exclusive conversation about race. “La Cuestion del Negro” thus clarified the role of ethnic identity and invited further conversation between whites and blacks.

     

    Adolfo Zamora, another contributor to Revista de Avance, addressed this topic in an essay on Afro-Cuban artista Eduardo Abela in the January 15, 1929 issue  (doc. no. 1280283). Zamora also wrote an essay, “What should American Art Be?” in the September 15, 1928 issue of Revista de Avance that mentioned race and identity (doc. no. 1280267). Taken as a group these essays can be understood as the publication’s attempt to plot Afro-Cubanness onto the map of Cuban cultural production.