C&AL: How would you describe the events in Cuba over these past months?
Roselin Rodríguez Espinosa: What has happened in Cuba lately has been the unavoidable schism of a crisis now ongoing for more than thirty years. The uprising across the island is proof of the desperation of a people at their wits’ end and at a loss as to how to create an existence for themselves.
If the “sleeping alligator” [this term alludes to the island’s physical resemblance to the animal] has awakened, it is because its people can no longer cope. Moreover, it is a rupture in the symbolic order, which contributes irreversibly to dismantle what, on a global scale, has been conceived in a romantic way as revolution, socialism and anti-capitalist resistance – all ideas treasured by certain nostalgic leftists. As Hilda Landrove has said, “In Cuba we cast off the cloak of silence. Now what is the left going to do with their words?”
These recent events cannot be understood without regard to the transformations in the Cuban idiosyncrasy, e.g. with the growing access to the Internet and the contact, even intermittent, with the outside world. Nor can they be separated from the recent social outbursts that have taken place in several countries across Latin America. Social mobilizations are creating a new rhythm for the future, and with the events of these past months, I would like to think that the time has finally come in Cuba for change and renewal.
C&AL: How has the Cuban artistic community reacted to these events?
RRE: We should start by recognizing that a group of important artistic communities are at the base of what evolved into the demonstrations in July and August. The space of dissent has been taking shape in recent years through aesthetics, writing, public events and independent journalism; in short, through a differentiated and confrontational voice opposed to the country’s official culture. Among the organizations and collective works stand out: the San Isidro movement and the 27 N, or even the Biennial 00 (#00bienal) from years back, a critical contestation to the Havana Biennial in 2017, the Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism, directed by artist Tania Bruguera, and the digital magazine El Estornudo.
In this web of complexities, the work of a variety of artists, writers and journalists such as Luis Manuel Otero, Maikel Osorbo, Anameli Ramos, Mónica Baró, Carla Gloria Colomé, Carlos Manuel Álvarez, Hamlet Lavastida, Julio Llópiz-Casal and Camila Lebón, to mention a few, has been tireless. Several of them are still imprisoned as a result of the demonstrations. Their work has opened a path for political renewal that has brought to the forefront the need for a revolt first in thought, as well as in aesthetics and discourse.
C&AL: What are your hopes or expectations for the future of the island?
RRE: I can assure you that the uprisings are something that all Cubans inside and outside the island have fantasized about at one time or another with varying degrees of fear and excitement. Only we didn’t know how, when or even if we would ever see them happen. In the midst of the historical excitement, something cracked, and that which broke away was just a useless shell.
The expectations I may have range from the most elementary to the most complex. What is urgent is that basic conditions are created to make life on the island liveable, that Cubans do not have to throw themselves into the sea in search of a new land to live in or cross the American continent on foot and in caravans to the north. That at least seems impossible with the country’s current government, which is nothing more than a prosthesis of the same system and that does not recognize its decrepitude. On the other hand, and this is the complex part, it should be possible to fully understand the meaning of the powerful phrase “Homeland and Life” and that dialogue, flexibility and movement are not synonyms of the abyss (even if it means getting rid of the ideals with which one has grown up), but on the contrary, it is the only possibility for survival.
Roselin Rodríguez Espinosa is a curator and art historian born in Havana. She holds a Master’s Degree in Art History from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) as well as a Bachelor’s Degree in Art Sciences and Cultural Management from the Autonomous University of Aguascalientes. Her reviews and essays have appeared in publications such as Campo de Relámpagos, Revista de la Universidad, Horizontal, La Tempestad and Cubo Blanco de Excélsior. Since 2017, she is a curatorial coordinator at the Museo Universitario Arte contemporáneo (MUAC/UNAM).
Translation from Spanish by Zarifa Mohamad Petersen