In Cuba, is there a Feminine or Feminist photography?

/ 1 September, 2017

Who are devoted to this expression of visual arts in the island? What are their poetics, esthetics and the subjects they work on…? A young woman researcher answers these and other questions from a committed and critical standpoint. Ever since she studied at the Faculty of Arts and Letters of the Universidad de la Habana, Aldeide Delgado began to get interested in researching about women who draw on photography as a means of artistic expression. She rummaged through the labyrinths of the history of photography, the esthetics of art… Along this path she made findings, asserted certainties and asked herself questions that brought about new questions, she put on her gender glasses and in this manner, gradually, she collected information until she conceived the Catálogo de Fotógrafas Cubanas (Catalogue of Cuban Women Photographers), “which in this moment—she explains—is in the process of design and structuring and already there is a team working on its viability from the editorial perspective.”

In what measure do you consider that the Catalogue… contributes to the visibility of this art and to dignifying women creators who use this means of expression? What names, subjectmatters and esthetics stand out in this project for characterizing the current Cuban women photographic creation?

It has been a fascinating project due to the histories that have been unfolded, the authors revealed and the photographs that I have been able to find. It is a work that involves searching and rescuing that will definitively give rise to other projects deriving from this initial investigation. It pretends—and in this sense lies its contribution—to generate a cartography, a tradition of women photographers that should provide paradigms and referents to contemporary women artists and at the same time will acknowledge and assess their creations. Concerning subject-matters I emphasize the treatment of the body, selfreferentiality, the gender discourse, the exploration of sex, identity as well as a more objective and experimental trend that is found in Grethell Rasúa, Sandra Ramos, Susana Pilar Delahante, María Cienfuegos, Marianela Orozco, Lisandra Isabel García, Linet Sánchez, Leysis Quesada and Khadis de la Rosa, among others.

How would you define the photographic art made by women in Cuba, as regards trends, subject-matters and poetics? Is it possible to talk about a feminine or feminist photography?

I will start by answering the second question because I would like to explain minutely the concepts of feminine photography which is not the same as feminist. First of all, I am not in favor of using the term “feminine photography”; rather the term photography in which the subjectivities and female universes are dealt with. My opposition to the first term lies on the cardinal criterion stated in the phrase. A “feminine” photography implies acknowledging the existence of a “masculine” photography, and that would mean to fall into the same sex/gender system which we want to come out of. What would be the features of the so called feminine photography? Would it deal with banal, non-transcendent and introspective subject-matters? Where would we insert the work of María Eugenia Haya, Nereida García or Mayra Martínez? Or is it that in their cases it is about the reproduction of an hegemonic masculine discourse? Nelly Richard in Masculine-feminine. Practices of the difference and democratic culture has written that “feminine esthetic usually connotes an art that expresses women taken as a natural fact and not as a symbolic-discursive category, formed and deformed by the systems of universal representation. Feminine art—continues saying Richard—would be the representative art of a universal femininity or of the female essence that illustrates a universe of values and meanings associated to the sensitivity, corporealness and affectivity that in the allotment masculine-feminine have been traditionally reserved to women.”

(…) In Cuba there are many women photographers concerned about the gender conflicts; however, the treatment of these subjects partly continues being stereotyped and lacking resourceful solutions both in thematic as well as conceptual levels. The imprint of the creative work by Marta María Pérez and Cirenaica Moreira is perceived in some of them, while others find in an object poetic the necessary elements for the discourse of an imagery on the feminine. Without any doubt, one of the contributions of making a research focused on the work of women artists lies in the possibility of analyzing from the critique perspective how women see themselves, within a context that has always set them on the other side of the camera. The Catalogue of Cuban Women Photographers is a contribution in this sense, because the work they have been making will become visible, and mainly, for those who are more contemporary it should mean a point of reflection as regards their forerunners and to what extent they recognize themselves or not in that tradition.

The insistence on my answer to the question whether there is a feminine or feminist photography in Cuba is based on the premise that I do not consider appropriate to refer to the photography made by women as a “feminine photography” due to the elements previously explained; and we cannot speak either of a feminist photography since, even though some authors approach the gender subject-matter, there is no political attitude to be found, neither is there a cognizant and active participation in the social reality, since they reject or fear their work be analyzed from this perspective. Its distinction stems from an attitude that demand the revision of history to search for hidden models and the possibility of unfolding thematic areas from a gender perspective. (…)

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