Fellow, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies and Visiting Scholar, Afro-Latin American Research Institute
Odette Casamayor-Cisneros is Associate Professor of Latin American and Caribbean Cultures at the University of Connecticut-Storrs. She received her Ph.D. in Art and Literature from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris.
Her book Utopia, distopía e ingravidez: reconfiguraciones cosmológicas en la narrativa post-soviética cubana (Utopia, Dystopia and Ethical Weightlessness: Cosmological Reconfigurations in post-Soviet Cuban Fiction), published by Iberoamericana-Vervuert in 2013, examines, through the lens of literary production, the existential void experienced by Cubans after the collapse of the Socialist Bloc in the 1990s.
Casamayor is currently working on her new book On being Blacks: Challenging the Hegemonic Knowledge Through Racial Self-Identification Processes in post-Soviet Cuban Cultural Production. This project has been originally sponsored by a 2005 Rockefeller Foundation fellowship as Visiting Research scholar at SUNY/Stony Brook. A first article on this topic, “Negros de papel. Algunas apariciones del negro en la narrativa cubana después de 1959”, received the 2003 “Juan Rulfo” International Essay Award in Paris.
She is also the recipient of the 2009 “José Juan Arrom” National Prize of Literary Essay by the Union of Cuban Writers (UNEAC).
Portions of her research on blackness in Cuban cultural production are available as chapter books and articles in peer-reviewed publications from Duke UP, Routledge, Vervuert, Gale and other prestigious academic publishers. Her work is also included in Queloides: Race and Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art, book accompanying the homonymous exhibition presented in Havana, Pittsburgh, New York and Harvard between 2010 and 2012.
As a writer of fiction, Casamayor has published the collection of stories Una casa en los Catskills (La Secta de los Perros, 2012).
On Being Blacks: Challenging the Hegemonic Knowledge Through Racial Self-identification Processes in Post-Soviet Cuban Cultural Production
After more than 50 years of communist rule that supposedly eradicated racial inequality, why is racism against Blacks still present in Cuban society? Seeking for answers, I view Cuba within the Global Afro-Diaspora, as a laboratory in which the failure of economic, social, political and ideological conditions to explain the resilience of racism urges the search for new epistemologies on “race”. Hence, my book adopts an ethical-aesthetic perspective to deconstruct the Eurocentric values on which blackness has been construed as otherness in Western societies. To this end, I examine a wide collection of works produced after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in 1989 by Afro-Cuban hip-hop and rock musicians, writers, filmmakers, and visual and performing artists, who challenge the ideal of a raceless national identity promoted by the socialist government, and counteract the stereotyped vision of Blacks as subjects “humanized” by the socialist revolution, struggling to become the heroic paradigm of the virile, heterosexual and Eurocentric Che Guevara-like “New Man”.
I termed occurrence the ethical-aesthetic strategy used by many of these artists. Going beyond rigid confrontational situations like those forged by the revolutionary/non-revolutionary, white/black and civilized/barbarian modern polarities, occurrence enables the expression of blackness as an experience that cannot be apprehended through traditional concepts and stereotypes. Occurrence underscores the fictionality of the identity fabricated by the hegemonic knowledge. There lies its political effectiveness.