Category Archives: Recent Research

Seeing the Change: La Fábrica in Havana

Posted by Nicki Fleischner- MA Candidate at CLACS/ Global Journalism at NYU 


Kevin, a 24 year-old design student, checking out the skateboard exhibition at La Fábrica.

When we arrived there is already a line snaking its way around the block: Cuban girls in heels, boys in gold chains and brightly printed graphic tees, foreign tourists or exchange students sprinkled throughout. At the door a few groups try to grease the impressively built bouncers. Some people are successful just by dropping the right name, or flashing their Biennial art festival badges—available only to those (mostly foreign tour groups) who paid for them ahead of time. It’s the Biennial’s opening night at La Fábrica in Havana, and as several people have emphasized to me, it is the place to be.

I always knew I wanted to do my fieldwork in Havana. Following President Raúl Castro’s economic reforms in 2010 and then President Barack Obama’s decision to renew diplomatic relations with the country last December (and the slew of media hype that has followed), it feels like the right time to be here; a time when Cuba is on the brink of transformation (or not at all, as many of my more cynical Cuban friends will tell me). Leaving for Havana on my direct flight from New York (another change) the check-in line filled with American tour groups headed to Havana’s 12th Biennial— an international art festival that takes place in the city from late May through June—it did feel different, and that an opening up (and commercialization) is actually happening. Now in Havana it is my goal to assess what the “changes” we read about have tangibly resulted in for Cuba’s younger generation: does it impact their daily lives, their aspirations for the future, their conception of themselves?

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Aponte and His World Conference Dives into A Radical Vision of Slave Uprising


Dominique Serres, The Capture of Havana, 1762: Taking the Town, 14 August, c. 1775, oil on canvas

Written by CLACS MA Candidate Constanza Ontaneda Rehman-Khedker

Coming soon, on Friday May 8th and Saturday May 9th, NYU will be proud to host a one-of-a-kind two-day conference centered on the leader of the 1811-1812 massive slave rebellion in Cuba. “José Antonio Aponte. José Antonio Aponte and His World: Writing, Painting, and Making Freedom in the African Diaspora,” will feature more than twenty renowned scholars from NYU, and other distinguished institutions in the U.S. and abroad, who will discuss the visionary leader, his legendary “book of paintings,” and the future direction of “Apontian” scholarship.

Over the past fifteen years, scholars have shown a renewed interest in the political and historical legacy of José Antonio Aponte (?-1812), a free man of color, carpenter, artist, and alleged leader of a massive antislavery conspiracy and rebellion in colonial Cuba in 1811-1812. Aponte was also the creator of an unusual work of art—a “book of paintings” full of historical and mythical figures, including black kings, emperors, priests, and soldiers that he showed to and discussed with fellow conspirators. Aponte’s vision of a black history connected a diasporic and transatlantic past to the possibility of imagining a sovereign future for free and enslaved people of color in colonial Cuba. Although the “book of paintings” is believed to be lost, colonial Spanish officials interrogated Aponte about its contents after arresting him for organizing the rebellions, and Aponte’s sometimes elaborate, always elusive, descriptions of the book’s pages survive in the archival trial records.


Gilles-Louis Chrétien after a drawing by Fouquet, Potrait of Vincent Ogé, 1790, engraving

From myriad academic backgrounds in the humanities, historians, anthropologists, philosophers, literary scholars, and art historians explore the figure of Aponte as artist, intellectual, revolutionary, and theorist. In addition to this scholarly interest, Aponte has also been re-enshrined as a national figure in contemporary Cuba, following a 2012 bicentennial that commemorated his death at the hands of colonial authorities. However, given the recent scholarly and public focus on Aponte, there has not yet been a conference dedicated to the interdisciplinary scholarly perspectives that have sought to advance the study of the singular “book of paintings” and its visionary creator.

“José Antonio Aponte. José Antonio Aponte and His World: Writing, Painting, and Making Freedom in the African Diaspora,” brings together scholars to discuss the current state of “Apontian” studies and suggest future directions for scholarship. It includes, as well, scholars doing work on questions of historical memory, the intellectual history of the enslaved, and the relationship between text, image, and politics in other settings in order to put Aponte’s history in conversation with a wider world, much, indeed, as his own “book of paintings” tried to do.


For the conference program click here.

To register for the conference, please click here.

Join us for this conference at the King Juan Carlos Center at New York University, 53 Washington Square South. Click here for a Google map. The closest subway is the West 4th station where the A, B, C, D, E, F trains stop. For more information, please contact lmr273 [@] nyu [.] edu.


Sponsorship for the conference has been generously provided by the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty, Arts, Humanities and Diversity, the Caribbean Initiative of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Department of History, the Reed Foundation, and the Department of Art History.

Spring Colloquium 2015 – Marlene Daut and the Racial Discourse of Haitian Print Culture

Marlene Daut and her new book Tropics of Haiti:  Race and the Literary History of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, 1789-1865

Marlene Daut and her new book Tropics of Haiti: Race and the Literary History of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, 1789-1865

Written by CLACS MA Student Patrick Moreno-Covington

As scholars, there is always a hint of uncertainty as to where the fruits of our research will take us. We can so easily start from one time period, community or region and end up “across the world” two or three centuries removed. That is certainly the case for next Monday’s installment of the fascinating Spring 2015 Colloquium Series – Latin American Independence in the Age of Revolution featuring Marlene Daut Associate Professor of English and Cultural Studies at Claremont Graduate University. So how did Daut, an English professor, end up speaking on the print culture in the period following the Haitian Revolution in a series focused on the Atlantic Revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries?

Daut’s path to her academic subject of interest and to completing her upcoming book, Tropics of Haiti: Race and the Literary History of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, 1789-1865 certainly was unorthodox but has been instrumental in the development of her interests. Graduating from Loyola Marymount University with a double B.A. in French and English, Marlene thought she could combine her two interests by studying the literature of francophone Louisiana in the antebellum period as part of the University of Notre Dame’s English department. Building on the links she found between a newly independent Haiti and the francophone culture in the American south, Marlene began digging into a vast body of Haitian fiction that emerged to fictionalize the the events of the Haitian revolution.

But were these works of fiction? Despite containing what were clearly fictionalized accounts of actors integral to the revolution and especially Toussaint Louverture, Daut began to find that the authors of these novels all claimed that the events and descriptions of the Revolution not as fiction but as accurate histories. In particular, elements of the stories describing the racial taxonomies present in Haiti at the time of the uprising and the enlightenment roots of the Revolution were related as truth in the plays, fiction and even the journalism of the time.  As Marlene began to follow these these stories from their circulation in the Antilles and across the Atlantic to Europe, she found clear indications that many of these “histories” were being wholesale reprinted and retold by authors around the world. Daut groups these repeated tropes into to narrative categories – the “mulatto” vengeance narrative and the Enlightenment narrative.

Each of these narratives, while seemingly opposed, worked in conjunction with each other to define the racial discourse of the Revolution and beyond. In many ways, Daut’s work points to the beginnings of a sense of biological racism – defined by the proponents use of “scientific” veracity – that defined the post-independece era of race relations. The investigations into Haitian print culture and its lasting influence on racial discourse can serve as a critical key to revealing some of the silences around the Haitian Revolution that are beginning to be exposed with a new surge in Haiti scholarship.

It is here that the potential impact of Dauts work can extend far beyond discussions of history and literature of the 19th century and into the present day. In light of some of the many comments from public figures that emerged following the 2010 Hatian earthquake Daut can see the racialized tropes of the 1800’s begin to rear their ugly head once again. In a time where it is so easy to click ‘share’ and ‘retweet’, Daut’s work asks us to examine what language we copy and replicate and their implications.

Join CLACS Monday, April 13th at 6 pm in the King Juan Carlos Center Auditorium for Marlene Daut’s talk on Race and the Transatlantic Print Culture of the Haitian Revolution 1789-1865.

Follow CLACS on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on all CLACS events and goings on in Latin America. 

Spring 2015 Colloquium: Latin American Independence in the Age of Revolution

colloquium poster_horizontal_r7

On February 23rd, CLACS inaugurates its Spring 2015 Colloquium Series “Latin American Independence in the Age of Revolution” with a lecture by Sergio Serulnikov, Director of the Graduate Program in History at the University of San Andres in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His talk, titled “La crisis del orden colonial en Hispanoamérica,” will address crucial theoretical and methodological issues in the political history of Latin American independence. Professor Serulnikov contests scholarly positions that point to 1808 as the starting point of the colonial crisis after the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. Serulnikov, who is also a researcher at the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas de la Argentina (Conicet), maintains that in order to understand Hispanic America’s different responses to the Spanish Kingdom’s debacle one needs a local, integrated, and long term view of these processes. This lecture and the reception to follow will be held at the Deutsches Haus starting at 6pm.

This lecture is part of a Research Colloquium which combines a graduate level course with a lecture series. The event series brings top scholars from around the world to present current research to the NYU community as well as the general public. CLACS Faculty members Sinclair Thomson and Sybille Fischer are co-teaching and spearheading the Spring 2015 Research Colloquium.

The colloquium features an interdisciplinary approach that “explores Latin American independence through readings in political history, political theory, and cultural studies,” said Professor Thomson. Special attention will be given to “primary sources (including chronicles, philosophical disquisitions, pamphlets and propaganda, speeches, constitutions, travelers’ accounts) and the distinctive and complementary aspects of historiographic and literary approaches.” Thomson adds that, “a broad awareness of historical context and careful attention to historical texts can yield revealing new understandings of the past.”

The February 23rd talk will be followed by “When the New Conquered in Latin America: Newness and Value in the Era of Independence,” with Victor Goldgel- Carballo, Assistant Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, on March 2nd. Goldgel’s talk is also at the Deutsches Haus. On April 13th, the Colloquium moves to the KJCC Auditorium where Marlene Daut, Assistant Professor of English and Cultural Studies at Claremont Graduate University, will speak on “Race and the Transatlantic Print Culture of the Haitian Revolution, 1789-1865.” Two weeks later, on April 27th, novelist and professor at Goucher University, Madison Smartt Bell will give a lecture titled “Desalines Disembodied.” On May 11th, our closing lecture of the series will be “Bolívar as Slaveholder, the Image of 1815, and the Myth of Abolition,” by Michael Zeuske of Universität zu Köln, Iberische und Lateinamerikanische Abt./ Historisches Institut.

To register for the February 23rd lecture please click here. For more information about the Colloquium series, and other upcoming events, click here to join our mailing list for weekly updates.

The Bolivian Federal War: The Legacy of a Broken Alliance

Jailed Aymara soldiers.

Jailed Aymara soldiers.

In the course of history, alliances can dissolve into betrayal, injustice and violence. This is the case that NYU PhD. in Latin American and current Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern University, Forrest Hylton detailed in his presentation “They Should Rule and Take Over Everything”: The Mohoza Insurgency, “Race War,” and State Formation in Bolivia’s Federal War, 1899-1905. In his presentation, Mr. Hylton informed CLACS guests, students and faculty of the unique alliance between Zarate Willka, Aymara leader of a pan-regional confederation and the the Liberal insurgency led by José Manuel Pando in late 19th Century Bolivia. This alliance was based on an agreement between the two groups. The Aymara confederation would join the Liberals with the understanding that once in power, they would restore communal Aymara lands seized by the Conservative leadership and a allow indigenous groups to practice self governance.

The alliance dissolved following the events of the Mohoza Insurgency. Here Mr. Hylton presented highly sensationalized and racialized archival news accounts of an event where a group of indigenous insurgents came into conflict and killed what was reported as 100 Conservative and white townspeople of Mohoza. The Mohoza “massacre” and subsequent trial enraptured the Bolivian press and populace and helped to reinforce stereotypical conceptions of Aymara barbarity. The trial resulted in the sentencing of nearly all the indigenous participants of Mohoza, although a large amount had already died in prison. The vicious language employed by both the Defense and Prosecution to describe the Aymara people provided the pretext that the now President Pando and the Liberals needed to directly expropriate Aymara lands; a complete reversion of their initial agreements.

Mr. Hylton posits that the Bolivian Federal War can reveal some of the many ways that racism was reified through the transition to liberal forms of federalism. The effects of this transition continue to be lived in the political, economic and discursive fields by millions of indigenous Bolivians today. Despite the many negative outcomes the Bolivian Federal War and the Aymara insurgency, Mr. Hylton notes that the legacy of Zarate Willka and the Aymara pan-regional confederation can be found in the the most promising elements of the pluri-national Bolivian Constitution of 2009. With this new constitution, the alliances between indigenous Bolivians and state actors now have the potential to live up to the promise that started with the Bolivian Federal War.

Forrest Hylton Bio here.

Find out about more CLACS events here.

To Remember Is To Resist

Ói Nóis Aqui Traveiz , To Remember Is To Resist

Ói Nóis Aqui Traveiz , To Remember Is To Resist

My research experience in Brazil has been very interesting and unique, as Brazilian artists, art critics and curators have opened the doors of their ateliers and houses to talk about the experience of the military regime in their country.
Many of the artists told me that the dictatorship did not influence their way of creating art. Nevertheless, the context in which they where living unavoidably influenced the content of their works.

After interviewing the sculptor Carlos Tenius I met the painter Clara Pechansky, who told me that for her the only way possible to talk at that time was through her art. She never took part in protests, but she inserted elements of interior revolt in her work. In the series of lithographs that she produced during the harshest period of the regime, called “Games of Power”, generals are a recurring subject. They are represented full of ornaments and decorations and they are funny figures. In a lithograph that the artist showed me there is a line of generals. Some of them are holding slings instead of real weapons. Others are represented as wind-up toys with a spring on their back that would serve to activate them and make them play the trumpet. At the bottom there are some women looking up at the line of soldiers. They don’t have mouths: a possible reference to censorship.

I then met the artist Vera Chaves Barcelos, who in 1976 founded with other artists the group “Nervo Optico” (Optical Nerve). Together the artists wrote a manifesto against the power of the marked in the art world and against regional art. The members proposed instead an international and independent movement. The group was a reaction to the art policies, which were a direct consequence of the government of that time.
Vera did some ironic works that could be read as political, such as the work called “Keep Smiling” that is composed by photographs of people who are forcedly smiling at the camera and the viewer. The posture of the people resembles that of the photographs of prisoners. Today the artist thinks of her work as political, as at that time there were few reasons for smiling and being cheerful.

At the time of the dictatorship the artist Carlos Wladimirsky, who I met a few days after, did some urban interventions that were openly against the regime, a denunciation of the crimes committed by the military. For one of his works he cut the head of some mannequins, painted them red and set them on fire in the middle of the street.
He also organized several events and performances that had a ritual character and a direct reference to African religions. With his group of performers called “O sentido do corpo” (The meaning of the body) he collaborated with the theatre group Ói Nóis Aqui Traveiz. They realized two shows in which all the actors were naked. The piece did not have a sexual connotation, but a sensorial one. At the time nakedness was not common and there were very strong reactions from the public.
Carlos’ work was against the dictatorship of the body. He was seeking the liberation not only from the political constrains, but a sexual, religious and social emancipation.

After talking with Carlos I decided to interview Paulo Flores, one of the founders of Ói Nóis Aqui Traveiz. The group always favored performances in the streets, rather than in theatres, in order to be able to reach a larger number of people. But they were able to start playing in the streets only in 1977, during the Geisel government, when also the student demonstrations returned to the streets to demand for democracy.
The theatre group has always been politically and socially engaged. The day after I met Paulo during a rehearsal, they performed a show in memory of the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the dictatorship, asking the Government to investigate the crimes committed during the regime, to identify the people who disappeared and to punish the people responsible for the killings.
Paulo explained me that Ói Nóis Aqui Traveiz was always concerned with integrating aesthetics and politics, and the audience with the actors.
The members have always been both artists and political activists. During the regime their performances used to open the demonstrations in the streets and parks of the city. Their theatre has a mobilizing character; it involves and changes the viewer.

Posted by Camilla Querin – MA Candidate at CLACS / Museum Studies

Subtlety Is Very Heavy

Monument to Castelo Branco seen from below

Monument to Castelo Branco seen from below

I started my field research about Brazilian art during the military dictatorship in Porto Alegre, the capital of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Porto Alegre is a symbolic place in the history of the regime.

In 1961, when the then-president Jânio Quadros renounced his charge, the military, sustained by the United States, tried to prevent the vice-president João Goulart (Jango) to take office. At the time, Jango was in China. The military feared a leftist government and, as Jango was visiting a communist country, they asserted that they wanted to prevent a bolshevist dictatorship. The governor of Rio Grande do Sul, Leonel Brizola, organized a civil resistance to maintain the juridical order and assure the respect of the Constitution, called Movement for Legality.

Many artists participated in the resistance and a group of visual artists, musicians, writers, journalists, actors, and newscasters signed the Manifesto de Intelectualidade contra o golpe (Manifesto of the intelligentsia against the coup) that called the Brazilian artists and intellectuals to unite in defense of the constitutional order.

Thanks to the support of the General José Machado Lopes and other politicians, the campaign was successful. Nevertheless, Jango was overthrown three years later, on March 31, 1964 by the military coup that installed the dictatorship.

And it is at the Colegio Militar, the military school of Porto Alegre, that all the five dictators who governed during the regime studied.

I decided to do my first interview to Carlos Tenius, the sculptor who created the Monument to Castelo Branco, one of the organizers of the coup and the first president of the military regime. The monument was commissioned by the businessmen of the area who thought that Castelo Branco had saved the country from communism. The project had to pass the censorship of the military.

Several artists who were asked by the committee refused to do it. Among them the sculptors Vasco Prado, who was a member of the Communist Party and Xico Stockinger, whose name was the first on the list of artists who signed the Manifesto of the intelligentsia in 1961.

Carlos Tenius accepted to create a project for the monument. His statue is 28 meters high and is composed by four standing figures made of iron. They are warriors with over-sized legs, holding shields and standing in circle, as to attack or to protect themselves. The huge statue is located in Parcão, a park in one of the central neighborhoods of the city.

During our meeting, Tenius told that the artists of the left harshly criticized him for designing a statue in honor of a dictator. “Nobody understood what was the message. Art has the fundamental chance of revealing an era. And I was aware of it. I wanted to represent in a subtle way the period of time in which we were living. Instead of participating in demonstrations, being taken by the police, being tortured or killed, I decided to do something symbolic. Subtleness is very heavy.” According to the artist, the monument marked an era. “People need perspective to judge events (and works of art) that only time can give. History needs distance to be comprehended.”

The monument was inaugurated in 1979 at the presence of the last dictator, Figueiredo, after the harshest time of the regime had passed, and the statue is still standing.

Monument to Castelo Branco, 1979

Monument to Castelo Branco, 1979

With its huge dimensions it transmits a feeling of subjection to the people walking under it. It can perfectly be the representation of the brutality of the dictatorship, of the atmosphere of tension and the sensation of being constantly under control that reigned at that time.

Most of the people who I talked with in the Parcao did not know that the sculpture was a monument to a dictator. However, this year on the night of March 31, the 50th anniversary of the coup, a banner with written “Ditadura nunca mais” (Dictatorship never again) appeared on the statue. Interpretations of the meaning of the statue and the intentions of the artist can be diverse. For sure the monument remains a symbol of an era of violence and limitation of freedom that needs to be remembered in order to be avoid.

 Posted by Camilla Querin – MA Candidate at CLACS / Museum Studies