This article reconnoiters a set of repeating images of “cubanness” in state-sponsored art, particularly seen in works created by and appropriated under the patronage of the dictator Gerardo Machado y Morales, in power 1925–33. The primary object of study is Havana’s Statue of the Republic, a colossal gold and bronze woman nearly fifty feet tall and weighing forty-nine tons. Telescoping back to the colonial plantation and forecasting ahead to Cuba’s revolutionary future in 2018, the article argues that La República embodied a tension between ethical consensus and political dissensus in a much broader history of cultural politics, race, and gender in Cuba. With the face of a white Cuban aristocrat and a body based on a mixed-race mulata model, the statue activated—and still galvanizes—a range of memories, myths, and meanings related to aesthetic constructs of the nation. Those repeating images, born from the plantation and projecting forward to the Revolution, give shape to a relationship between politics, ethics, and aesthetics that is particular to Cuba and its history.
Race, Gender, Giants: Consensus and Dissensus in Cuban Cultural Politics
Joseph R. Hartman is assistant professor of art history and Latinx and Latin American studies at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. Hartman’s first book, The Dictator’s Dreamscape: Building Machado’s Cuba (forthcoming), deals with art and cultural politics in twentieth-century Cuba.