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Embodied Dissent: Exploring the Activist Turn in Contemporary Cuban Art



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Mato, Katherine Anne 


In 1961, Fidel Castro famously proclaimed, ‘¿Cuáles son los derechos de los escritores y de los artistas, revolucionarios o no revolucionarios? Dentro de la Revolución, todo; contra la Revolución, ningún derecho’. These words have permeated the Cuban art scene ever since, with some artists choosing to work within Castro’s prescribed ideals and others seeking to problematise them. Those artists deemed counterrevolutionary have faced significant consequences, including imprisonment, erasure, and exile, retributions that have garnered international attention and cultivated an Activist Turn in contemporary Cuban art. This thesis aims to provide insights into the ways in which this phenomenon has taken shape on the island, as well as to explore how Cuban and diasporic artists have engaged with democracy, globalisation, and the critical themes of migration, displacement, and identity that have pervaded activist art in/from Cuba since the 1970s.

To properly examine activist art in/from Cuba, each chapter explores a particular artistic strategy, focussing on photography in Chapter I, artist-centred performance art in Chapter II, spectator-driven performance art in Chapter III, and alternative spaces in Chapter IV. Through this organisational framework, the thesis charts how such approaches have shifted over time, often reflecting international trends in contemporary artmaking. Although post-revolutionary Cuba has remained relatively isolated from global economies, this thesis reveals how the island’s limited exposure to such trends has yielded an art centred on hybridity, one that, while highly internationalised, continues to feature characteristically Cuban tropes and responds to local concerns. For instance, notions of the democratic across activist artistic practices in/from Cuba are examined in depth, exploring the ways in which contemporary Cuban artists promote and enhance democracy. Thus, this thesis gives evidence of artists’ growing involvement in activism in recent years, arguing that these approaches should be understood within a broader historical framework, building on the artistic strategies developed by the previous generation.





Page, Joanna
Segre, Erica


Latin American Art, Contemporary Art, Cuban Art, Activist Art, Feminist and Queer Theory


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge