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Revise Ofrendas
by David H. Brown, Ph.D.
Smithsonian Institution Press
July, 2003; 288 pages; 9 x 12 inches
29 plates; 121 black and white photographs and line drawings, 7 maps, 5 tables
ISBN 1588341232
$44.95 Hardcover
£34.50 World Hardcover

Pid: 595

A groundbreaking study of an Afro-Cuban secret society, its sacred arts, and their role in modern Cuban cultural history.

Enslaved Africans and creoles developed the Abakuá Society, a system of men's fraternal lodges, in urban Cuba beginning in 1836. Drawing on years of fieldwork in the country, Brown's novel approach builds on close readings of dazzling Abakuá altars, chalk-drawn signs, and hooded masquerades. In his art history of Abakuá altars, Brown not only traces changing styles, but also shows how they evolve through cycles of tradition and renovation. "The light inside" reflects the essence of the artists' creativity and experience: through adornment, altars project the powerful spirituality of Abakuá practice, an aesthetic strategy the author treats with an insider's passion and a scholar's rigor.

Brown then traces a "biography" of Abakuá objects-their shifting forms and meanings--as they participated in successive periods of Cuban cultural history. Early carnival sightings of Abakuá masquerades brought curiosity mixed with fear. Soon seen as a "savage" threat to the Cuban nation, the Abakuá Society was criminalized, and its "fetishes" were became forensic evidence from police raids. By the 1930s Abakuá objects fed the hunger of the emergent artistic avant garde, providing renewing indigenous sources for their primitivism, surrealism, and mestizaje nationalism. Finally, things Abakuá became valid subjects for ethnographic study, seeing their apotheosis as icons of national folklore during the Cuban Revolution. Case studies utilize close rhetorical and visual analyses of changing representations of the Abakuá, spanning nineteenth-century arts and letters, modern ethnographic texts, museum displays, paintings, and late twentieth-century commercial kitsch.

In this interdisciplinary work, Brown brings together art history and cultural anthropology with Latin American, African Diaspora, and Cultural studies.

David H. Brown, Ph.D. writes on African Diaspora arts, religions, and expressive cultures. He is author of Santería Enthroned: Art, Ritual, and Innovation in an Afro-Cuban Religion.

David Brown  •   Folkcuba.com  •   Ocean  •  New Jersey  •  
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