In his essay The Diaspora as Object (2003), art historian John Peffer points out important questions regarding the discursive and aesthetic uses of the concept of African diaspora in the arts. “Much of the new art seeks to shift the diaspora from a subject-speaking position into an object-in-question” (8), says Peffer. While assuming the condition of object, the notion of diaspora recombines multiple geographic and historical connections, offering “a crucial insight into the current global condition”. But it is not without a loss, since the political implications of the term – originally based on the experiences of forced exile and the commonalities of a shared heritage – are diffused amidst larger discursive frames:
“Currently, the concept of diaspora may be seen to be positioned among an array of such buzzwords as border, creolization, transculturation, hybridity, and so on, all attempting to describe intercultural contact zones and transnational cultures”, saysJohn Peffer.
If, in Cuba, the display of Bedia’s work is grounded on the necessity of a dynamic and contemporary view of the Afro-Cuban presence in the island, in Dakar, it encompasses an enlarged perspective of what is considered to be part of the African diaspora. The question is to what extent the malleability of such concepts and their uses by the so-called “global art system” demands more precise frameworks. While inscribing the circulation of artistic practices in their political contexts, the transnational networks that permeate the history of Biennials like Havana and Dakar can shed much light on how concepts are appropriated for the sake of curatorial discourse. As we know, shows of such nature are never isolated events resulting from a single authorial project. They represent, instead, a combination of forces and interests that transcend the art world.
Sabrina Moura is a curator and editor based in São Paulo (Brazil).
(1) Stokes Sim, L. “Wifredo Lam: Surrealismo del Nuevo Mundo”. In: Sobre Wifredo Lam. Ponencias de la Conferencia Internacional I Bienal de la Habana. Havana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, (1986).
(2) Mosquera, G., Beyond the Fantastic: Contemporary Art Criticism from Latin America. Cambridge: MIT Press (1996): 121-132.
(3) Camnitzer, L., New Art of Cuba. Austin: University of Texas Press, (2003): 41
(4) Bettelheim, Judith. “Palo Monte Mayombe and Its Influence on Cuban Contemporary Art.” African Arts 34, no. 2 (2001): 36-96
(5) It is important to stress that Palo Mayombe is not the sole ritual reference in Bedia’s exhibition at the Third Biennial of Havana. There, he also presents works based on Native American’s spiritual practices, among other Caribbean traditions.
(6) Bedia, J., Catalogue of the Third Havana Biennial (1989): 217.
(7) Interview with José Bedia, June, 2016.
(8) Peffer, J.,. “The Diaspora as Object”, in: Looking Both Ways: Art of Contemporary African Diaspora. New York: Museum for African Art, (2003): 22-35