The Mystique of the Everyday in Afro-Cuban Art

by Bridget Garnai, Collections Intern

On Wednesday, February 17, the Miami University Art Museum hosted an event as part of the Black History in the Diaspora Lecture Series. The speaker was Juan Carlos L. Albarran, a lecturer on Latin America, Latino/a, and Caribbean Studies in the Global and Intercultural Studies Department of Miami’s College of Arts & Sciences.

Albarran’s lecture was titled “The Mystique of the Everyday in Afro-Cuban Art.” He highlighted four specific moments in Cuba’s history and talked about how the visual art at those moments affect Afro-Cuban identity. Albarran spoke about the moments of the Colonial Period (1512-1898), the Cuban Republic (1902-1959), the Cuban Revolution (1959-1990s), and the Cuban Diaspora (1960s-present). An underlying current in Cuban art today is its connection to the tourism industry, which is projected for major growth now that trade and travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba have been alleviated. Works of art related to tourism often enforce preconceived outside attitudes about Cuban culture, including the objectification of Afro-Cuban women and the centrality of music to cultural practices.

Wifredo Lam "The Jungle" 1943 Gouache on paper mounted on canvas. 94 1/4 x 90 1/2". Museum of Modern Art
Wifredo Lam “The Jungle” 1943
Gouache on paper mounted on canvas. 94 1/4 x 90 1/2″.
Museum of Modern Art.

My favorite piece of art that Albarran presented is the 1943 painting The Jungle, by Wifredo Lam. This painting has a very wide range of influences and helps to illustrate the many roots of Cuban culture. Some of these elements include sugar canes, tobacco and coffee leaves, African masks, Santeria symbols, and vibrant colors. Albarran argued that this was a more accurate visual representation of Cuban culture in contrast to the constructed tourism culture.

Jose Bedia “Nfumbi Mpangi” 2002. Two-color lithograph on black Arches cover. 24 3/4″ x 44 1/2″. Miami University Art Museum.




Another particularly interesting piece discussed by Albarran is a lithographic print in the Miami University Art Museum’s collection, Nfumbi Mpangi, a 2002 work by Jose Bedia (b. 1959).The artist grew up and studied art in Havana, Cuba. He now lives and works in Miami, Florida. Similar to Lam’s painting, Nfumbi Mpangi is a visual representation of cross-cultural influences. Bedia began attending the religious ceremonies of the Palo Monte, an Afro-Cuban religion with roots in Zaire and Angola; during his teenage years and he had an interest in Native American culture stemming from his love of “cowboy and Indian” comics in his youth. During the 1980s he left Cuba, moved to the United States, and spent time studying the Dakota Sioux culture on the Rosebud Reservation. His art is a visual representation of his daily worship and the cultural influences that have shaped his life and work. Bedia’s print highlights the symmetry between Afro-Cuban spirituality and indigenous art forms, especially man’s relationship to the earth and his own ancestors.

The next lecture in the Black History in the Diaspora Lecture Series will be held at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, April 4 in the Harry T. Wilks Theater at Armstrong Student Center. The lecture, “Art of Architecture: 21st Century Black Diaspora Architects” will be by Carolyn Armenta Davis, Hon. AIA, an architecture historian, lecturer, curator, and writer who focuses on African/ Black Diaspora architects.