Drapetomania: Grupo Antillano and the Art of Afro-Cuba
A forgotten visual arts and cultural movement that thrived briefly between 1978 and 1983, Grupo Antillano articulated a vision of Cuban culture that privileged the importance of Africa and Afro-Caribbean influences in the formation of the Cuban nation. In contrast to the official characterization of Santeria and other African religious and cultural practices as primitive and counter-revolutionary during the so-called Quinquenio Gris (a "grey" period of neo-Stalinist censorship during the 1970s), Grupo Antillano valiantly proclaimed the centrality of African practices in national culture. They viewed Africa and the surrounding Caribbean not as a dead cultural heritage, but as a vibrant, ongoing and vital influence that continued to define what it means to be Cuban. Some Afro-Cuban intellectuals, such as the noted ethnomusicologist Rogelio Martínez Furé, proclaimed triumphantly that a "new," authentic Cuban art had been born.
Yet neither this "new art" nor the very existence of Grupo Antillano are remembered today. Grupo Antillano has been in fact erased from all accounts of the so-called "new Cuban art," a movement that took shape precisely during those years and that is frequently associated with the legendary exhibit Volumen Uno (1981). In contrast to Grupo Antillano, however, most of the artists of Volmen Uno did not look towards Africa or the Caribbean for inspiration, but to new trends in Western art. The "new art of Cuba," to use the title of art scholar Luis Camnitzer's famous book, came to be identified with the westernized approach of Volumen Uno, not with the Afro-Caribbean art of Grupo Antillano.
This exhibit seeks to recover the history of this group and their important contributions to the art of Cuba, the Caribbean and the African Diaspora. Several members of Grupo Antillano had attended the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) in Nigeria in 1977 and saw their work as part of a diasporic conversation on art, race and colonialism. As Group members stated in their foundational manifesto (1978), "The Antilles are our common real environment... We are not interested in other worlds." They saw their work as part of a long tradition of struggle, cultural affirmation and resistance, what a nineteenth-century Louisiana medical doctor had described as a slave disease: drapetomania. The main symptoms of this disease was an irresistible urge to run away and to escape slavery.
Essentially, these disparate artistic visions point to alternative interpretations of what it means to be Cuban and what constitutes a true national culture. This is, in other words, a debate about what Cuba should be, and how to handle the perennial problem of the country's racial diversity. This debate is particularly intense today, as different social and cultural actors seek to envision Cuba's possible futures and the roles of Cubans of African descent in those futures.
Sierra Maestra, CubaPeriodista, Ciudad Cultural, El Sol de Oriente, Cuban Art News 1, Cuban Art News 2, Cuban Art News 3, Afrocubaweb, Diario de Cuba, Cubaencuentro, Cubarte 1, Cubarte 2, La Jiribilla, Havana Times, ArtNexus
- Video 1 - Primera parte de la entrevista realizada al Profesor Alejandro de la Fuente en la ciudad de Filadelfia con motivo de la apertura de la exhibición "Drapetonomía: Grupo Antillano".
- Video 2 - Segunda parte de la entrevista al Profesor Alejandro de la Fuente en su visita a la ciudad de Filadelfia por la exposición "Drapetonomía: Grupo Antillano" en el African American Museum in Philadelphia.