Elzbieta Sklodowska: “Etched in Sugar, Soil, Metal, and Blood: The Afterlives of the ‘Plantation Machine’ and Countervisuality in Contemporary Cuban Art”

“Antropofagia del fatalismo geográfico” (1996), by Douglas Pérez Castro (attachment 2); Courtesy of the artist.

To start off the 2021-2022 academic year, the Working Group on Slavery and Visual Culture will host a virtual talk by Elzbieta Sklodowska (Washington University in Saint Louis) titled “Etched in Sugar, Soil, Metal, and Blood: The Afterlives of the ‘Plantation Machine’ and Countervisuality in Contemporary Cuban Art.” The event will take place on Zoom on October 27, 2pm-3pm CT.

Abstract: Sugar—both as a commodity and as a metaphor—has been woven into the fabric of Cuban history and identity ever since the indigenous genocide and the ensuing enslavement of African peoples had put the pan-Caribbean “plantation machine” into a relentless forward motion. In this paper, I analyze  the reinscriptions of the sugar plantation in select paintings, photography, installations, and performance by contemporary Cuban artists: Tania Bruguera (b. 1968), Carlos Martiel (b.1989), Douglas Pérez Castro (b. 1972), Reinaldo Echemendía Cid (b. 1987), and Susana Pilar Delahante Matienzo (b.1984). I argue that by etching—both literally and metaphorically—the black, gendered experience in sugar, soil, metal, and blood these artists reclaim the “right to look” by creating their own discourses of “countervisuality” (Nicholas Mirzoeff’s terms) in the crucible of enslavement, resistance, and (re)productive plantation machine.

Click here to register for the Zoom event.

Click here to read the article.

“Punishing Slaves in Cuba.” Harper’s Weekly 12.622 (Nov. 28, 1868): 753.

Elzbieta Sklodowska is the Randolph Family Professor of Spanish at Washington University in Saint Louis. Skolodowka’s fields of interest include nineteenth- and twentieth-century Caribbean narrative; literary and cultural theory; Cuban narrative and culture; poetics and politics of memory; testimonial literature.

She has published widely on topics pertaining to Spanish American literature (60 articles or book chapters), including the following books: Testimonio hispanoamericanohistoria, teoría, poéticaLa parodia en la nuevanovelahispanoamericana (1960-85)Todo ojos, todo oídos: control e insubordinación en la novelahispanoamericana (1895-1935)Espectros y espejismos: Haití en el imaginariocubano. She has co-authored or co-edited the following books: Huellas de las literaturashispanoamericanas (co-authored with J. Garganigo, R. de Costa, G. Sabat-Rivers, A. Luiselli, B. Heller); La presencia de la literaturalatinoamericana en Polonia (co-authored with Elzbieta Milewska and Irena Rymwid-Mickiewicz); Roberto Fernández Retamar y losestudioslatinoamericanos (edited with Ben Heller). Her latest book, Invento luegoresisto: El Período Especial en Cuba comoexperiencia y metáfora (1990-2015), published by Editorial Cuarto Propio (Santiago de Chile) in 2016, explores the ways in which literature, art, and film in post-1991 Cuba reflect upon the dramatic changes experienced on the island after the collapse of the Soviet system.

Her current project is tentatively titled Alternative Lineages: Contemporary Cuban Women Writers and Artists. Portions of this book in progress have appeared as a chapter (“No Laughing Matter: Post-Soviet Cuba in the Orbit of Postmodern Parody”) in Postmodern Parody in Latin American Literature: The Paradox of Ideological Construction and Deconstruction edited by Helene Weldt-Basson (Palgrave 2018).

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