College of Liberal Arts

Diaspora Talk

Wednesday Oct 16, 2013 12:00 PM - 2:00 PM | ISESE Gallery, JES A230

udith Bettelheim "The Haitian Presence in Cuban Festivals: Performing a National Transcript"

Dr. Judith Bettelheim received her doctorate from Yale University in 1979 and retired from San Francisco State University in 2009. Her doctoral dissertation explored the Jamaican Christmas-Boxing Day festival Jonkonnu, and its cousins in the Anglophone Caribbean. For this project, she spent two years doing fieldwork and archival research in various Caribbean nations. In 1988 Bettelheim co-curated and co-authored Caribbean Festival Arts for the Saint Louis Art Museum, which traveled to 8 venues.  She first visited Cuba in 1985, and has made at least 15 trips of varying lengths since then.  She is the editor/author of Cuban Festivals: A Century of Afro-Cuban Culture (Ian Randle Publishers 2001). Her articles have appeared in numerous journals, like African Arts, the Art Bulletin and Caribbean publications like Del Caribe and Jamaica Journal.

 The exhibition, with catalog, “AfroCuba: Works on Paper, 1968-2003,” closed a four year tour in January 2008.  Also, in 2008, an essay "Lam’s Caribbean Years: An Intercultural Dialogue," was published for the exhibit, Wifredo Lam, at the Miami Art Museum. Bettelheim is the organizing curator, with co-curator Janet Catherine Berlo, of “Transcultural Pilgrim: Three Decades of Work by José Bedia,” accompanied by a book of the same title. This major retrospective was sponsored by the Fowler Museum at UCLA, September 18, 2011 –January 8, 2012 and opened at the Miami Art Museum in May 2012. Most recently, Bettelheim contributed a chapter in the anthology Grupo Antillano: The Art of Afro-Cuba, edited by Alejandro de la Fuente  (2013).



   In Santago de Cuba, Carnaval troupes, costumed as a “French-style” courtly entourage from the nineteenth century, parade every year. And yearly since 1982, members of the surrounding rural Haitian-Cuban communities perform during the Festival of Caribbean Culture.  Both styles of public performance serve as live texts which recall, maintain and expand recognition of the Haitian heritage in eastern Cuba.

   In a particular reading of the Cuban national transcript, Haitians are considered the ultimate revolutionary peoples. Yet the Cuban state could not support revolution at home. The Haitian communities of Oriente, or the Haitian descended cultural enclaves within certain communities, were neglected and even brutally suppressed between Independence and Castro's Revolution. But in post-revolutionary Cuba  by 1986, during the Communist Party National Congress, the Cuban state commenced an official policy of "rectificación de errores." The government became more tolerant toward certain previously marginalized social and cultural groups. Concomitant to these changes came a push to organize national cultural tourism. This lecture will seek to explain how, within the domain of performance, the socially marginalized become symbolically central to a multi-cultural national identity of Cubanidad.


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